Care coordinators will play a vital role in an ever-changing health care landscape, and nursing leaders are stepping up to lead the way.

Western University of Health Sciences College of Graduate Nursing and the California Institute for Nursing & Health Care (CINHC) celebrated the completion of the first RN Care Coordinator Program June 7, 2013 in Ontario, Calif. Twenty-three nurses completed the 14-week program, which included an online course, a clinical practicum, and four in-person seminars.

The Care Coordination Program prepares nurses to deliver and manage care, especially for vulnerable populations in hospital and community settings across the care continuum. College of Graduate Nursing Dean Karen Hanford, EdD, shared that research conducted on this role demonstrates improved care delivery, decreased hospitalizations for chronically ill patients, and less fragmentation of care.

“The Care Coordinator Program will prepare nurses to assume an important role in health care reform,” she said.

Care coordinators find themselves interacting with, and caring for, people who may be at the lowest points in their lives, said Mary M. Lopez, PhD, RN, College of Graduate Nursing Assistant Dean, Administration and Research. They will look to care coordinators to understand and to offer the best choices possible, delivered in a compassionate manner.

“Massive changes are proposed in health care, and we are perched on the edge of great reform,” she said. “Now is the best time to be a care coordinator, as you have an opportunity to affect your own path, carve out a new role, and assist the vulnerable in making healthy choices.”

Care coordination is an important component in improving health care, and seasoned nurses have a great deal to offer patients and families, said program participant Liz Wessel, RN, Director of Education in Palliative Care at St. Joseph Health Home Health in Orange, Calif.

Taking this course showed her the vast amount of resources available to help her patients, she said.

“It makes me realize the importance of being a life learner. Being back in school expands your world view,” she said. “It’s important to learn about all the latest research and the latest literature going on in health care reform. It’s changing so rapidly.”

Wessel said the course inspired her to make changes at work.

“I teach palliative care to nurses and other clinical disciplines. I’m revamping my palliative care program. I have come across a lot of resources I can bring back and integrate into my program to help nurses feel more comfortable having difficult conversations with patients and their families,” she said.

The College of Graduate Nursing will evaluate data from the course, such as participant satisfaction and patient outcomes, and present a final report to The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF) on July 31, said Jan Boller, PhD, RN, CGN Associate Professor, who serves as the Director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice and Health Systems Leadership programs.

The Care Coordination Program completes one component of a grant given by The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF) to the California Institute for Nursing & Health Care. In addition to facilitating the development of the Care Coordination Program, CINHC will convene Thought Leaders — consisting of government, insurance companies, hospitals and health systems, community clinics, educational institutions, health care associations and consumers — to identify opportunities and build consensus around roles for RNs to fully participate in health care reform.

A White Paper will describe the processes and conclusions reached by the Thought Leaders group. The White Paper will be widely discussed in regional forums, then finalized and disseminated to health care and consumer groups.

The project is funded by a grant from The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF). Created in 1992 as a private independent foundation, TCWF’s mission is to improve the health of the people of California by making grants for health promotion, wellness education and disease prevention.

The mission of CINHC is “to transform the capacity of nurses to meet the evolving health needs of Californians,” and the Care Coordination Program epitomizes that mission, said Carolyn Orlowski, RN, MSN, CINHC Regional Coordinator for Southern California.

“Nursing has always pulled up our bootstraps and taken care of business when business needs to be done. We can be responsive. We’re good at that,” she said. “Wherever each of you are in your roles, hopefully this course has given you more information to take back and help advance those programs you’re already involved in. I see this as an opportunity for nursing to take the lead in making those decisions and changes for the future of health care.”

The course taught her to think globally on a policy-changing level, said participant Dawn Arceneaux, Assistant Patient Centered Care Coordinator/Integrated Health and Healing Nurse for the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

“This is such a critical time in health care,” Arceneaux said. “Coming from the VA, our military culture really needs and deserves care coordination. With the Affordable Care Act, they’re going to have more choices, which for some people means more confusion. We need to educate our veterans on what they can know (and) what their rights are, and we’ve got to be there to coordinate for them and to advocate for them.”

Arceneaux said she is ready to embrace the role of care coordinator. She implored her colleagues to do the same.

“We have a network of experience and support in this room that is so wide — our professors, our colleagues, our preceptors, our leadership from all the organizations,” she said. “We can start with each other. We’ve got to make sure we stay in touch and that we really move this along. We are the early adapters.”

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About the California Institute for Nursing & Health Care (CINHC)

CINHC is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, founded in 2001, dedicated to transforming the capacity of nurses to meet the evolving health needs of Californians. CINHC partners with California nursing leaders, educators, foundations, state agencies and healthcare organizations to develop practical and sustainable solutions to nursing workforce issues.

About Western University of Health Sciences

Western University of Health Sciences (www.westernu.edu), located in Pomona, Calif. and Lebanon, Ore., is an independent nonprofit health professions university, conferring degrees in biomedical sciences, dental medicine, health sciences, medical sciences, nursing, optometry, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant studies, podiatric medicine and veterinary medicine. The Chronicle of Higher Education named WesternU a 2012 Great College to Work For.