By Scott Maxwell
GPHA Legislator Educator
Georgia’s public health nurses made a very impressive, effective presentation at a Georgia State Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Thursday, Nov. 19th. Led by DPH Chief Nurse Carole Jakeway, who opened the hearing with a powerful slide presentation, the team made a strong case for budgetary enhancements to bring PH nurse salaries up to par with those in the private sector. In addition, the presentation explained the real need to 1) increase the number of PH nurses in the field, 2) develop a progressive career track, and 3) create a service cancelable loan program for nursing degrees.
The hearing was the result of more than two years of behind-the-scenes planning by the Department that included discussions with key members of the general assembly and the Governor’s Office Planning and Budget. Senator Renee Unterman, a longtime friend of public health who chairs the Human Development, Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities, Public Health Subcommittee of Appropriations in the Senate, called for the hearing. Sen. Unterman also chairs the Health and Human Services Committee. Significantly, one of the subcommittee members in attendance was Sen. Butch Miller, who serves as the Governor’s Floor Leader. Sen. Dean Burke (whose wife is a PH nurse) attended the meeting by telephone.
Following Carole’s slide presentation, each of the other nurses present gave personal testimony of how the recruitment and retention of nurses has suffered due to extremely low salaries and lack of professional advancement opportunities. They also delved into the many duties of PH nurses, including disaster preparedness and response. The Georgia Public Health Association was represented by Tiffany Vinson, Chair of the Nursing Section. Scott Maxwell introduced her briefly with a few remarks about the association.
The DPH team left behind a package of information for other members of the senate and their staffs that is chocked full of statistics, charts and additional data that show the glaring need to improve the PH nurse career situation. The Senators asked numerous questions and seemed to appreciate the substance of what was presented. As someone who attends legislative hearings for a living, I was struck by the professionalism of the DPH presentation, the effective personal testimony of the nurses and the overall positive impression that was made. It was, indeed, a good day for public health . . . in a long process.