The Alabama State Nurses Association made history today after electing Dr. Lindsey Harris as the first black woman to ever head the organization. The group has been representing nurses and healthcare workers across the state for over 100 years. Like many state-run nursing organizations in the U.S., the Alabama State Nurses Association (ASNA) works to bring nurses together, increase access to quality, affordable healthcare, and promote diversity throughout the industry.
Dr. Lindsey Harris will help move the organization closer to these goals. Find out why her victory is so monumental to the state.
The History of the ASNA
Since its founding, the group has worked tirelessly to improve healthcare parity across the state. Incorporated in 1914, it was one of the first state-run nursing organizations in the country. In 1923, members advocated for the creation of the Board of Nurse Examiners, which became the Alabama Board of Nursing, to ensure licensing and education requirements for all nurses in Alabama. They also pushed the U.S. Senate to designate nursing as a “profession” rather than a “service.”
Over the years, it has advocated for safe working conditions for nurses. In 1935, the group adopted the 8-hour workday with a salary to protect nurses from burnout and exhaustion. In 2006, they also authored the Workplace Violence Law, resulting in a bill that made it a felony to attack a nurse. And in 2010, they stopped $2 million from being removed from the budget for the Alabama Board of Nursing.
Who is Dr. Lindsey Harris?
Dr. Harris is no stranger to the field of medicine. According to the official press release announcing her win, she earned her Bachelor of Science Nursing degree from Samford University, her master of science in nursing as a family nurse practitioner, and her doctor of nursing practice from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing.
As you can see, she has a range of experience that’s sure to guide her to success in her new position. She’s also a former president of the Birmingham Black Nurses Association, Inc. (BBNA) and a current member of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA).
Dr. Harris will use her unique experience and background to make the state’s nursing industry more equitable for all providers, regardless of their ethnicity or race.
Why is Her Election so Important?
Alabama has been hit hard by the coronavirus in recent months, peaking on July 23rd with 2,110 new cases in a single day.
So far, the virus has killed 2,457 across the state, with a total of 146,584 confirmed cases. Black Americans have been the most affected. Black residents account for just 27% of the state’s population, but nearly 45% of its coronavirus deaths. The death rate for white people in Alabama is 1.5 in 10,000. For black people, it’s 3.5 in 10,000.
According to experts, these health disparities are deeply rooted in the history of the American South. State and local policies have disenfranchised African Americans throughout the state, limiting their access to healthcare.
Alabama was one of the few states that decided not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which denied thousands of low-income residents’ access to affordable healthcare. Some estimates show expanding the program would provide coverage to 360,000 more residents.
If we look at a map of coronavirus infections across the state, the poorest neighborhoods seem to be most affected. The Black Belt, a predominantly black area in south-central Alabama, including Lowndes County, just west of Montgomery, has the state’s highest per capita death rate due to the virus.
Black residents also tend to make up the vast majority of essential workers in the state. According to the Economic Policy Institute, black workers make up one in six “essential” workers and are disproportionately exposed to COVID-19 on the job. And in southern states, those jobs are predominantly held by black women.
Advocates say policymakers should focus on expanding Medicaid and providing paid sick leave to workers to help bolster the state’s response to the pandemic. As the new face of the ASNA, Dr. Lindsey Harris will play a decisive role in the future of the state’s healthcare policy. We wish her the best of luck in her new position.