LeadingAge Interview with Dr. Martha Dawson, President of the National Black Nurses Association

Regulation | December 21, 2020 | by Jill Schumann

An interview with Dr. Martha Dawson, President of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) from the December 21, 2020 LeadingAge Coronavirus Update Call.

Dr. Martha Dawson, President of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) joined the LeadingAge Coronavirus Update Call on December 21, 2020 and answered questions from Ruth Katz and from callers. 

(Listen to the interview here.)

Q: From your perspective, what are the most pressing things we should be thinking about with vaccinating older adults and staff members across the continuum?

A: The prioritization of frontline healthcare workers and older adults seems right given their vulnerability. Since this is a new vaccine it is important that if there is an adverse response to the vaccine there is someone present to respond immediately. We respect that each individual’s body may respond differently.

Q: The National Black Nurses Association is working on vaccine education. Please tell us more.

A: Several months ago, the Black Coalition Against COVID-19 was begun by a number of organizations including: NBNA; National Medical Association; the deans of four historical black colleges, and the National Urban League. The goal is to provide trustworthy and reliable information.

Q: What kinds of questions do people have about vaccination?

A: People want more information about the safety of the vaccines and whether they have been developed too quickly. The goal of the Coalition if to be transparent. The Coalition wrote a Love Letter to the Black community and want to make themselves available for questions or concerns. Information is posted to the Coalition website and the Black medical school website also contain robust resources.

Q: We know that there is horrific history in this country regarding African Americans and healthcare. How should we reckon with that?

A: The history must be acknowledged and not rationalized away. In the cases of Tuskegee treatment and information were withheld and the situation persisted for a very long time. Similarly, Henrietta Lacks’ cells were used without the knowledge or permission of Ms. Lacks or her family and it was a very long time before these issues came to light. There have been issues with blood transfusions and organ donation. We must acknowledge the reality of racism in this country.

The Coalition is focused on building trust by sharing transparent information. Blackdoctor.org has been doing surveys to ascertain attitudes and concerns. The number of people saying that they would not take vaccine is trending down as black physicians, nurses, pharmacists and others are actively providing information. They are engaging with faith communities, the Urban League, and others. It is important that people receive information from trustworthy Black leaders at all levels.

Q: As the Pharmacy Partnership rolls out many staff members and residents are unsure about whether to get the vaccine. What should can our members do to help bend the uptake curve?

A: Everyone’s question is important. We should stop using the phrase “vaccine hesitancy” and recognize that people want more information. Individuals should have conversation with their own healthcare provider to decide if/ when it is best to be vaccinated. Not everyone should or must be vaccinated immediately.

Q: Could you tell us more about the RE SET program?

A: RE SET is a program of NBNA designed to take care of frontline nurses. We know that self-care is important during this stressful time. There are a number of components: webinars, soothing music, and also access to health and mental health consultation at no charge. Non-NBNA members can also access the resources at NBNA.org. You can find resources there or send a message to the NBNA Facebook page. The RE SET toolkit is free to download.