Louisiana State Nurses Association: An Interview with Louisiana State Senator Sharon Hewitt
The Pelican News: An Interview with Senator Sharon Hewitt
District 1 Senator Sharon Hewitt came to the Louisiana State Senate as a recognized civic and community leader with decades of volunteer service to area children and families. The Lake Charles native and long-time resident of Slidell holds a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from LSU. As an engineering executive, Senator Hewitt managed major deep-water assets in the Gulf of Mexico for Shell and earned a reputation as a passionate, committed problem solver.
Senator Hewitt married her husband, Stan, over 35 years ago and they have proudly raised two sons, Chris and Brad. They are longtime members of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Slidell. As a state senator, Hewitt serves as vice-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, and is a member of the Senate Environmental Committee, the Joint Budget Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees the state budgeting process. In addition, the Senator represents the state of Louisiana on two important national energy panels and serves on several statewide coastal restoration committees and councils focused on women and children’s issues. Since beginning her first term in 2016, the Senator has focused on fiscal reforms to shrink the size of government, to limit spending, to fund programs with measurable results, and to streamline higher education and healthcare. In addition, Senator Hewitt’s LaSTEM Advisory Council will create high paying jobs to meet the future workforce demands in science, technology, engineering, and math, while providing women with opportunities to close the gender pay gap. Senate District 1 includes portions of St. Tammany, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, and Orleans parishes.
What initially inspired you to your current position?
I ran for the State Senate because I was deeply concerned about the direction of our state and believed that my strong record of results, both in the business world and in my community, had prepared me to solve the numerous challenges facing our state.
What achievements are you most proud of?
As I began my first term in elected office in January of 2016, I felt a huge sense of urgency to identify and solve the biggest issues facing our state as quickly as possible. Therefore, my work has been primarily focused on creating jobs, reducing government expenses, and restructuring our budget.
The most exciting job-creator bill I passed in 2017 is Act 392, which created a statewide STEM Advisory Council (LaSTEM) to develop a strategy to meet the growing workforce demands in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math by building a pipeline of students, educated and eager to tackle the technology challenges so integrated into our everyday lives. In addition, the bill focuses on encouraging more women to enter STEM careers, which will help decrease the gender pay gap.
With healthcare being 50% of the state’s budget and growing at a cost of $1B per year, I have focused both on how to better forecast our Medicaid expenses (2016RS - Act 586) and how to reduce our Medicaid expenses by encouraging and helping able-bodied, Medicaid Expansion recipients, without dependents, ages 19 - 49, to work, participate in job training/education programs, or donate their time to community service as a requirement to continue to receive Medicaid benefits (2017RS - SB 188). Although this bill did not pass in 2017, we are gathering data on the roughly 1/3 of our Medicaid Expansion recipients who are currently not working and are monitoring the Medicaid waivers submitted by several other states who are pursuing this concept to assist families in getting out of poverty with jobs and private insurance.
In the area of higher education, which is another major expense for the state, I passed Act 619 in 2016, which the Board of Regents called the single biggest higher education reform in recent history. This legislation is eliminating costs and increasing academic offerings by encouraging 4-year universities and 2-year technical and community colleges in a geographic area to work together to meet the needs of the citizens and the industries in that community.
Finally, I am restructuring the budget by co-chairing the Dedicated Funds Task Force, which will hopefully eliminate a number of the 387 dedicated funds, requiring them to compete for funding through the normal budget process, thus leveling the playing field with healthcare and education funding.
In addition, we are piloting Evidenced-Based Budgeting in adult mental health programs as a result of a bill I passed in partnership with the Pew Foundation (2017RS - Act 387). This is a best practice in many other states whereby programs are required to be evidenced-based and have a strong benefit/cost ratio as an indicator of results to be able to continue to receive state funding.
What is your advice for nurses who are interested in advocacy?
The importance of advocacy cannot be overstated. As legislators, we are all a product of our own life experiences and none of us are experts in every field. With have roughly 2000 bills being debated in a regular legislative session, we depend on experts in the field to advise us on the pros and cons of the legislation being considered. Since nurses are at “ground zero” in hospitals, clinics, and medical offices, you are in a unique position to add valuable insight on healthcare issues. Your opinions and your input matter!!
How should nurses approach service on Boards/Commission?
Serving on a Board or Commission is the first level of public service. We have thousands of boards and commissions around the state that perform at various levels of proficiency. Obviously, those entities that are comprised of highly-qualified members generally deliver the best products and are fiscally responsible. Where you see an opportunity to contribute your skills to a Board or Commission, I’d strongly encourage you to do so.
What do you see as the greatest challenges currently facing nursing?
Nurses have a challenging job. Not only are you responsible for providing direct care to the patients, you are asked to do so while balancing the financial needs of the insurance companies, healthcare providers, and hospitals AND juggling the ever-changing technology requirements of record-keeping. Honestly, I don’t know how you do it and still manage to smile and show compassion for the patients you are serving. Nursing is definitely a calling and I am thankful that so many of you have chosen to work in this industry.
12/15/17 - SOURCE: THE PELICAN NEWS by Georgia Johnson, LSNA President