Candy, thank you cards, flowers and newspaper ads are all nice touches and appreciated as ways to celebrate National Nurses Week, which ends today. But this year, nurses in Oregon would like you to consider a more important gesture.

Our state seems ready to make a serious and sincere effort to improve health and health care. Oregon's nurses are stepping up to make it happen.

We are asking that you join us. State Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-District 33, along with state Sen. Alan Bates, D-District 3, and state Sen. Ben Westlund, I-District 27 (a candidate for governor), have proposed an initiative called Healthcare Options Provided Efficiently. It would place health care on the same level of importance as public education by making access to affordable health care a fundamental right.

The Oregon Nurses Association and many other associations of health care professionals and health care consumer groups are taking this effort into the streets in an effort to collect the signatures needed to place HOPE on the November ballot.

HOPE initiates a crucial conversation about the future of health care. Will we continue to have a disconnected, and often overlapping, quilt of services? Do we continue to pick who gets care and who doesn't based on traits such as age, income or choice of employer? Do we accept as inevitable that the cost of health care will rise beyond the ability for most individuals and employers to pay?

On April 26, the association's House of Delegates overwhelmingly voted to secure signatures to get the HOPE initiative on the ballot for November. I was pleased to see that our colleagues in medicine voted to support health care reform as their top priority just a few days later.

The Oregon Nurses Association's own plan to improve the health care of Oregonians starts with a proposal called Health Care for All Kids. Universal access to health care for children is affordable and a smart place to build a model for health care that can expand to all Oregonians over time.

The association's nurse leaders already have made a difference in children's health. For example, Mary Lou Henn-rich (a candidate in House District 46) was instrumental in convincing major companies to phase out soda pop in schools in favor of water, low-fat milk, unsweetened juices and diet drinks.

Another example, Karen Oglesby, coordinates the association's free childhood immunization clinic.

Another nurse leader, Laurie Monnes Anderson, is an Oregon senator (D-District 25), and as chairwoman of the Senate Children's Health Care Committee, she is working on a plan for ensuring health care for children.

On the forefront of the Health Care for All Kids issue is Kelly Maggi, chairwoman of the association's Health Policy Cabinet. Maggi puts her words into action by testifying and educating legislators about health care reform policy.

Personally, this nurse will feel like celebrating when we are a state of people who are healthier and nobody is turned away from basic health care services. Until then, feel free to join us in gathering signatures for the HOPE initiative and recognizing nurses who are making a difference to improve the health care of all Oregonians.

Susan King is executive director of the Oregon Nurses Association, which is based in Tualatin.

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