By Kelly Brooks-Staub
In 2002, Evelyn McKnight was battling breast cancer for the second time. Her health went from bad to worse when she learned she was one of 99 Nebraska cancer patients infected with hepatitis C, transmitted because her health care providers were reusing syringes. Though the used needles were discarded, the syringes passed the infection from patient to patient, leading to the largest such outbreak in U.S. history.
“In recent years, numerous outbreaks-including one in my hometown of Fremont, Nebraska-have occurred because health care providers have failed to follow evidence-based safe injection practices,” says clinical instructor Julie Hindmarsh, MPH, RN. “Our students are committed to preventing such outbreaks in their careers and are taking to Capitol Hill to advocate for measures that would prevent future tragedies.”
Many Hopkins nursing students first learned of these issues from McKnight herself. Ron Noecker ’07 is friends with McKnight and invited her to come to Baltimore and speak to an undergraduate class on Quality and Safety. Noecker and the McKnights also had lunch with Dean Martha N. Hill, PhD, RN, FAAN, who helped them make contacts that led to the launch of HONOReform, a national advocacy organization dedicated to making injection procedures safe for all patients. “We told Dean Hill that we wanted to do ‘something good’ with our settlement money,” says McKnight, “and she helped us figure out a way to advocate for patient safety.”
Concerned about patient safety, and propelled by McKnight’s story, Hindmarsh and seven baccalaureate students from the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing met with members of Congress this February as part of their clinical rotation in Public Health Nursing. On Capitol Hill, they advocated for important reforms that would help prevent patient exposure to hepatitis, HIV, and other blood borne diseases by ensuring syringes and other medical instruments are used once and only once.
“The experience helped me feel empowered as a normal citizen and advocate for important legislation,” says Ellen Porter ’09.
Her classmate, Josiah Mueller, agrees. “The Congressional staff made us feel that what we had to say was important. And being a Hop-kins nursing student definitely lent us some credibility.”
In addition to meeting with lawmakers, the students joined the Safe Injection Practices Coalition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Acting Director Dr. Richard Besser, other members of Congress, federal health officials, and national health care stakeholders to launch The One and Only Campaign, a national public health campaign to re-educate health care providers and empower patients about safe injection practices. As a member of the Safe Injection Practices Coalition through her foundation, HONOReform, McKnight was also present for the launch.
“We were very pleased with the reception that we received from Congress,” says McKnight. “They were particularly interested in education to ensure injection safety.”
Reflecting on the Campaign launch, Amy Goh ’09 remembers McKnight’s words from her initial visit to Hopkins: “‘Our lives are in your hands,’ she told us. ‘You, as nurses, have the power to create change.’ Going to D.C. to help Evelyn and her cause was great.”