Iowa for Health Care

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION interviewed Sarah Swisher, the state director of Iowa for Health Care, in Newton, Iowa on June 21, 2003.  She was helping out at the Iowa for Health Care table at the Jasper County Democrats' "America's Hometown Forum" at Newton High.

QUESTION: What is Iowa for Health Care?

SWISHER: Iowans for Health Care started earlier in the Spring, really as the presidential candidates began to announce and to do their announcement tours.  And we're a group of nurses statewide organizing politically to get a voice to represent our patients and demand that we see quality affordable health care for all; universal coverage.  And what we know about nurses is they experience every day what their patients are going through so they have a whole different perspective on the health care crisis, and also we know that we're fortunate to be in a very respected profession.  We have high credibility with the public.  So we think that we're great messengers on this and we're really pushing the issue with the presidential candidates.  We follow them all over the place.

QUESTION: How does that work?  What other sorts of things have you done in addition to being here at this event?

SWISHER: We've been, in fact, with Sen. Harkin's "Hear it from the Heartland" forums, and we have roundtable discussions that are associated with those forums that are just for nurses to talk about how in their community they can begin to meet the issue.  And so as we organize around the state we have 10 targeted counties, and then really, we truly are a statewide campaign.  So if we know that a candidate's going to be in an area, we can call the nurses in that area and say hey don't forget, for example, that Dick Gephardt is going to be coming to your town on Friday and please wear your shirt and your button and talk to him about his health security plan.

QUESTION: Relative to the Harkin forums, this would be a separate thing before or after the event?

SWISHER: Yes it's a separate thing and we also attend the event and ask a question there and wear our purple shirts and let it be known that we're nurses.  Our trademark are stethoscopes.  We think that we stand out as nurses when we have stethoscopes on.  So we do whatever we can for visibility--reaching out to the public, reaching out to other nurses and continuing to make this grassroots organization grow.

QUESTION: How did you get to be state director?

SWISHER: I guess I have always been interested in politics.  I'm an Iowa native and I've been going to caucuses since I was 18 and really went to a few before I was old enough to vote, just to watch.  We're funded by Service Employees International Union.  I've been a union member at the University of Iowa, so I've been in contact with the international organization and done some political work before, but this truly intrigued me.  So I was able to take a year's leave of absence and then maybe another one after this to really work on this campaign intensively.  Although I miss my patients at the University of Iowa.

QUESTION: How many people are working on this?

SWISHER: On staff we have eight people.  So it's about the size of a congressional campaign and heavy on working in the field.  And then we have so far about 1,400 nurses who are active with us, and we're planning to grow that to several thousand.

QUESTION: And ten targeted counties.  Is that the biggest counties?

SWISHER: They are.  In fact we weren't really looking at population.  Our first thing when we began to target the counties we were looking at nurse density--where do most of the nurses live and practice.  Well of course it's associated with population.  And so that's how it ended up.  But we are doing some outreach into some rural areas too.  Just had a great conversation with a nurse from Red Oak yesterday...we've been doing statewide mailings and we get a lot of rural responses.

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