Facing Change to Change the Face of Women's Health
Jun 3, 2014 1:00 PM
Visit the web site for Eastern Utah Women’s Health, the practice Danielle Howa-Pendergrass, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, operates in Price, Utah, and you’ll be greeted by a bright, iridescent shade of pink. Howa-Pendergrass says the site is a reflection of the interior of her practice, which is designed in pop pink and bold black, and furnished with comfy furniture so patients feel as though they are visiting a friend’s home. Spend a few minutes speaking with the women’s health nurse practitioner and you’ll find the web site also is a reflection of her passion for women’s health.
Last year, following more than a decade of advocacy efforts on behalf of nurse practitioners (NPs) in Utah, Howa-Pendergrass helped see to fruition a milestone move in the Utah State Medicaid Program: the elimination of a clause that prevented NPs from equally participating in the system. Howa-Pendergrass took on the outdated policy as part of her Doctorate of Nurse Practitioner (DNP) scholarly project at the University of Utah College of Nursing. Particularly instrumental, says Howa-Pendergrass, was a course on leadership taught by Assistant Professor Jane Dyer, CNM, FNP, MBA, PhD, FACNM, in which Dyer had students choose a policy and explore how they would change the policy. “The DNP program at the College of Nursing was designed for me to succeed,” Howa-Pendergrass says. “Coursework prepared me to formulate my approach to address the policy issue, and to better articulate to policy makers the underlying social implications of not having access to care.”
As an agent of change, Howa-Pendergrass networked with colleagues, joined forces with coalitions and built relationships with policy makers. Thanks to a unanimous vote by the Medical Care Advisory Committee in favor of allowing all certified NPs the ability to directly bill and be reimbursed by Medicaid, patients now have access to NPs with specialties in adult and acute care, geriatrics, neonatal, psychiatric/mental health and women’s health. “It was a team effort for several years,” she says. “Many people laid the groundwork for this and never stopped trying. I’m thankful I had the experience of being a women’s health nurse practitioner for 10 years so I could use my time in the DNP program to focus on making major changes for NPs throughout Utah.” Howa-Pendergrass also attributes some of it to timing.
“Looking back on what we accomplished, I believe the timing of health care reform, the Medicaid expansion option and my entry into the DNP program created the ideal environment for me to take on this policy issue.”
In rural Carbon County, Utah, where Howa-Pendergrass was born and raised, the elimination of this practice barrier is a game changer for women’s health. “It has always been challenging to recruit OB/GYN physicians to our area,” she says. “Those who do come often stay for two years and leave. As a result, women in my area have been underserved.” With a service area stretching over three counties, Howa-Pendergrass opened her clinic in an effort to fill the gap. “I had a population of women whom I wanted to take care of, and who needed the services, and yet Medicaid was preventing us from working together.”
Nurse practitioners are recognizing Howa-Pendergrass for her efforts: In 2013 she was awarded the Utah Nurse Practitioners State Award for Excellence in Leadership. “I do this work because I love what you do,” she insists. “To be recognized by my peers for doing it is additionally meaningful.” She is the first nurse practitioner in her community to receive the award. “Dr. Pendergrass, came into the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program as an experienced clinician passionate about increasing access to high quality health care for women in Carbon County, but feeling frustrated by the lack of options,” says Dyer. “The DNP Leadership Course gave her the skills, back- ground and support to turn her passion and frustration into action. She is a wonderful example of the positive changes that a clinically-focused APRN can accomplish when given the tools in the DNP Program.”
Katie SchrierKatie Schrier is the former Communications Manager for the College of Nursing.