HJNO Mar/Apr 2021

NURSE PRACTITIONERS 14 MAR / APR 2021 I  HEALTHCARE JOURNAL OF NEW ORLEANS   2020 will go down in history as one of the most challenging for the health of Louisianans and our nation. As a longtime NewOrleans resident and nurse practitioner (NP) treating uninsured and underinsured patients in our state, I see every day the devastating toll that COVID-19 — along with an ongoing pandemic of poor healthcare access and health disparities — are taking on our community. The 2021 legislative session could truly be a season of hope for Louisiana patients. We have an opportunity to reverse a regressive, decades-long trend of inadequate healthcare access that has earned Louisiana — in a tie with Mississippi — as the least healthy state in the nation, according to the United Health Foundation (UHF). The urgency of our state’s healthcare needs cannot be overstated. According to the UHF’s findings, Louisiana is among the bottom 10 states in the nation for primary healthcare access Sophia L. Thomas, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP, is a licensed nurse practitioner (NP) in the state of Louisiana and is the president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. and 47th in the nation for preventable hospitalizations. The state ranks 45th in the nation for patients in “frequent physical distress.” Added to these tragic statistics, Louisiana’s behavioral health outcomes are the worst of all states, with our residents experiencing an 18% increase between 2014 and 2019 in its ranking for “excessive drinking” and 27% increase between 2010 and 2019 of “frequent mental distress.” Driving these healthcare challenges is an alarming trend. Even before the pandemic, we faced a severe shortage of primary care providers across the state. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), more than 2.2 million Louisianans across 155 communities lack adequate access to primary care with only 66% of the need met; and nearly 3.4 million residents in our state, across 151 communities, lack access to mental healthcare — representing just 25% of the need being met. Primary healthcare providers are on the front lines of COVID-19, and they are also leading the way in caring for patients struggling with substance use disorder. We are deploying treatment plans like medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which use medications to reduce drug cravings, along with counseling and therapy. Despite the proven effectiveness of MATs and therapy, many people needing treatment lack adequate access to primary care providers. In fact, 80% of Americans that could benefit fromMAT therapy aren’t receiving treatment right now. The pandemic has only worsened these impacts. From overwhelmed hospitals and healthcare providers addressing everything from COVID-19 to poorly managed chronic diseases to spiking cases of opioid overdoses, our communities are in urgent need of providers and care. NPs are a critical ally in the fight to address both the primary and behavioral healthcare challenges we