Health Promotion/Disease Prevention, Violence Added to Nurses' Public Policy Platform

The American Association of Occupational Health Nurses Inc. (AAOHN) added a few new advocacy issues to this year's public policy platform, many issues have carried over from 2003 with a little tweaking.

"This year, AAOHN has added health promotion/disease prevention and workplace violence prevention to our public policy platform," said AAOHN President Susan A. Randolph. "In doing so, we are addressing some of the most critical issues facing the workplace the need to improve employee health and therefore reduce health care costs, as well as the need to minimize physical, psychological and actual dollar costs associated with violence at work. OHNs have always taken a lead role in managing these challenges, but it's our goal to heighten visibility and awareness for these issues in a public policy context."

AAOHN will again be focusing public policy efforts on the nursing shortage. But this year's platform champions strategies to specifically improve the quality of the work environment for health care workers, and thus recruit and retain qualified nurses.

"Many of the current efforts surrounding the nursing shortage involve a pipeline approach of addressing salaries, funding, training and education to recruit more people to the profession," Randolph said. "While AAOHN supports this approach, we also recognize that much of the current problem is rooted in retaining nurses once they're employed. To do this effectively, we have to provide for a healthier, safer work environment in hospitals, clinics or any place where nurses and other health care professionals are employed."

All-hazard preparedness is another issue that carries over from the 2003 list. AAOHN continues to support policy that recognizes the workplace as a primary delivery system to respond to and mitigate manmade and technological threats such as terrorist attacks or chemical spills. However, AAOHN has updated its stance to address new threats from communicable diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and influenza, which impact not only the workplace, but also the community as a whole.

Other key policy issues on the 2004 platform include support for the confidentiality of health information and promotion of the nurse licensure compact.

The announcement by AAOHN that health promotion and disease prevention have been added to its priority list comes shortly after the release of a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that estimates that U.S. obesity-attributable medical expenditures reached $75 billion in 2003 and that taxpayers finance about half of these costs through Medicare and Medicaid. The findings will be published in the January 2004 issue of Obesity Research.

Total state-level expenditure estimates in 2003 dollars range from $87 million in Wyoming to $7.7 billion in California. Obesity-attributable Medicaid expenditure estimates range from $23 million in Wyoming to $3.5 billion in New York. Medicare expenditures range from $15 million in Wyoming to $1.7 billion in California.

"Obesity has become a crucial health problem for our nation, and these findings show that the medical costs alone reflect the significance of the challenge," said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. "Of course, the ultimate cost to Americans is measured in chronic disease and early death. We must take responsibility both as individuals and working together to reduce the health toll associated with obesity."

The study, conducted by by researchers at RTI International and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), found the estimated percentage of annual medical expenditures in each state attributable to obesity ranged from 4 percent in Arizona to 6.7 percent in Alaska. For Medicare expenditures, the percentage ranged from 3.9 percent for Arizona to 9.8 percent for Delaware. For Medicaid recipients, the percentages are much higher ranging from 7.7 percent in Rhode Island to 15.7 percent in Indiana.

"This report is alarming given that obesity has been shown to promote many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer and gallbladder disease," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC. "The long-term effects of obesity on our nation's health and on our economy should not be underestimated."

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