Tena Barnes Carraher highlights research, policy change, advances in health equity initiated by nurses

When Patrick Barnes became ill 24 years ago with an autoimmune disease, his wife, Tena, said the nurses made such a difference in her family’s life that they started the DAISY Foundation.

DAISY, which stands for Diseases Attacking the Immune SYstem, was created “with a mission to express gratitude to nurses, with programs that recognize them for the extraordinary, compassionate, skillful care they provide,” Tena Barnes Carraher said Friday during her keynote address at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Celebrating Nurses Awards luncheon.

“It was nurses who … not only provided the best compassionate care to my husband, Patrick — who after a few short weeks died from complications of the autoimmune disease ITP — there were also those nurses who helped my family and I to the darkest hours of our lives, with voices of hope and strong, loving hugs.”

She continued: “Today I want to talk about several other ways nurses make a difference. I don’t have time to talk about them all. So I’ll just highlight a few. Twenty-four years ago, we were a grieving family and, quite frankly, did not realize all the roles nurses serve, which makes us honor and respect you all even more.”

The first difference nurses make, Carraher said, is research.

“As many of you likely know, nurses are and have been conducting research that is improving patient care,” she said. “They are building a solid base of evidence in which to build stronger practices. Ultimately, this has benefits not only for patients and their families, but the interprofessional teams across the continuum of care. "

The DAISY Foundation, through the J. Patrick Barnes grants, has funded studies to improve patient experience during bone marrow aspiration, dyadic peer support, a hypertension feasibility study for African American women, early detection and nursing intervention in the care of patients with delirium, and home-based pulmonary rehab, to name just a few.

Nurses also work to change policy and legislation, Carraher pointed out.

“Nurses have worked to influence health care laws and policies for years,” she said, “facilitating change in health care by creating policies to ensure broad access to safe and quality care and to addiction treatment, to palliative and end of life care COVID treatment, protected communities of color, preventing domestic violence, increasing inclusion and equity, and creating communities to reflect a society that is passionate and caring for all. Nurses are often at the forefront of creating and driving policy.”

In addition, Carraher said, nurses are making a difference by working within their health care facility and in the community to advance health equity.

Recently, she said, the D.C. Health Equity Awards recognized nurse programs that increased the use of interpreter services, as well as creating learning materials and collaborating with nursing management. Not only that, other programs created the nation’s first global lung cancer screening program that provides free screening; tobacco cessation support; nurse navigation to qualify uninsured and underinsured individuals; and developing a curriculum for bedside staff to simulate de-escalation of conversations to improve the care families receive.

Although these programs overlap in some ways, Carraher said, they have one thing at their core: nurses.

“We often hear nurses say: ‘I didn’t do anything special. I was just doing my job.’ But I hope that not only today, but every day, you will take some time to reflect on how many lives you’ve impacted in such a tremendous way by just doing your job,” she concluded. “You do amazing work. You make a difference.”