Johns Hopkins School of Nursing Starts Health Equity Institute in D.C.

The Johns Hopkins School of Nursing launches a new Institute of Policy Solutions designed to provide nurse-led solutions for better health equity.
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Published on December 5, 2023
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  • The Johns Hopkins School of Nursing (JHSON) has officially launched the Institute for Policy Solutions, a research institute dedicated to providing evidence-based, scalable policy solutions for tough healthcare challenges.
  • The institute is located in Washington, D.C., and is designed to provide policymakers and elected officials with expert, timely access to healthcare experts.
  • As part of JHSON, the institute aims to promote nurse-led solutions emphasizing whole-person care rather than the current model of acute, sick-based care.

On Nov. 1, the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing (JHSON) announced the launch of a new research institute dedicated to a set of ambitious goals — reshaping healthcare and care delivery in the United States — with nurses at the forefront of the solutions.

The Institute for Policy Solutions, located in Washington, D.C., aims to create evidence-based, actionable solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing the U.S. healthcare system today. According to officials, the institute will interact directly with decision-makers, policymakers, and elected officials in pursuit of meaningful healthcare reform.

The institute will focus on nurse-led solutions, such as community wellness programs and home-based health solutions, that pivot focus from sickness- or procedure-oriented care to preventive models that emphasize wellness and treating the whole person for optimal health.

Additionally, the institute hopes to prepare nursing students to recognize healthcare challenges, design and advocate for solutions, and collaborate with decision-makers and legislators to effect change.

"We want every nurse to graduate with the skills to improve any context that they're in — whether it's their hospital unit, neighborhood, or state legislature," JHSON Dean Sarah Szanton, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, told BestColleges in an exclusive interview.

Institute for Policy Solutions at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing: What Will It Do?

The mission of the institute is to improve health by providing a policy pathway for nursing interventions targeting issues like disease prevention, new payment models, virtual nursing care, and more.

The institute is an extension of the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University, which has been a home for innovations in nursing for years, officials said. This makes it a natural fit, according to institute Director Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, Ph.D., RN, MPH, LCSW.

"Who better to make suggestions about policies to improve healthcare than the health professionals who are actually providing the vast majority of care?" Guilamo-Ramos said in a video on the institute's website.

The institute also hopes to position nurses as go-to experts for policymakers. Nurses provide the majority of direct patient care and are consistently ranked as the most trusted professionals, according to a Gallup Poll. This unique position allows nurses to identify, implement, and deliver solutions directly to patients.

One way the institute approaches this goal is through its Policy Honors Program. Nursing students are matched with faculty who are experienced in healthcare policy. Through research projects and extension work, nursing students learn how to identify areas where they can make a difference and enact meaningful change.

The institute provides students with training in strategic communications and policy-focused research projects. Additionally, the institute hosts a journalist-in-residence who provides specific training about interacting effectively with a variety of stakeholders.

The training is already paying off. As an example, a nursing student recently worked with a Hopkins alum to review a series of healthcare regulations after the passage of a new bill. Although the bill received comments from more than 900 policymakers and members of the public, it was the student who recognized an oversight in how the regulation was worded.

Without the student's intervention, the ability to prescribe homecare services would have been restricted to only physicians. This type of prescribing privilege was extended to physician assistants and nurse practitioners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The new legislation used the wrong language. No one else picked up on this, but [the student] caught the error," Szanton said.

Health Equity: The Role of Nurses

The conventional healthcare system often fails patients who face barriers like job insecurity, racism, or difficulty accessing quality care. These and similar challenges, commonly known as social determinants of health, can lead to worse health outcomes, lower life expectancy, and higher healthcare costs in the long term.

"The thing that excites me most about our mission at the institute is that nursing is a logical solution to so many of the problems in our current healthcare system because of our clinical expertise and scale," Guilamo-Ramos said in the school's announcement.

The School of Nursing currently runs several nurse-led community programs. In the Neighborhood Nursing program, nurses partner with community health workers in Baltimore. The program works with residents directly in their communities to better understand and respond to individual and family health needs.

Community Aging in Place — Advancing Better Living for Elders, or CAPABLE, is another program in which nurses, occupational therapists, and handy workers partner with older adults in the community to enable safe aging in place.

"The vast majority of healthcare across the globe, including the U.S., is delivered by nurses. When we start to marshal that power by deploying nursing in ways that are novel, away from acute care, and more along the entire health continuum, we will see radical improvements in outcomes and costs," Guilamo-Ramos said.

What to Expect From the Institute for Policy Solutions

The Institute for Policy Solutions opened to graduate students in the fall of 2023 to support faculty and students in developing policy solutions that will have a meaningful impact on healthcare delivery and patient outcomes. It will also serve as a resource for decision-makers searching for up-to-date and research-based recommendations for healthcare improvement.

To achieve its mission, the institute will sponsor several signature events to open communication between policymakers and nurse experts.

During their bimonthly Congressional Briefing Series, policymakers and the public can hear directly from faculty regarding relevant topics.

The Health Policy Forum engages healthcare leaders in conversations with other experts, faculty, and students about pressing policy issues. Previous forums explored topics like the role of artificial intelligence in healthcare research and the COVID-19 response. The forum takes place quarterly.

A New Healthcare System: The Institute's Vision

According to a press release, the institute's recommendations will center on value-based care.

Currently, most healthcare models are based on a fee-for-service policy, which is often criticized for incentivizing acute and sick-based care. Value-based care prioritizes preventative care through payment models that aim to keep people from getting sick in the first place.

Additionally, the institute promotes whole-person care that considers determinants that impact health, including psychological, economic, social, and environmental factors.

"A good healthcare system doesn't wait for you to get sick," said Guilamo-Ramos in the school's announcement of the institute. "It goes to you already aware of your individual biological, family, and community circumstances and says, 'How are you? Let's meet and check on your health status and figure out how we can keep you healthy' versus waiting for you to come into an acute care setting in an advanced state of illness that we're then trying to treat at great cost and with lower probability of a good outcome."