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When Linda Upmeyer, RN, was elected Iowa State Representative from the 12th District in 2002, she was the lone healthcare provider in the State House or Senate.
There was nary a doctor or nurse, not so much as a pharmacist, to be found.
“I was it," Upmeyer told Government Health IT. "So it’s easy to imagine some of the healthcare issues fell to me and I embraced them. It was a wonderful opportunity to draw on my background, what I knew, and try to work on some policy.”
Which is among the reasons that Upmeyer – the first woman to be named Iowa House Majority Leader – eventually became chair of the Hawkeye State’s Health and Human Resources Committee.
[And HIMSS Federal Policy Leader Award goes to ... HRSA head Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN.]
Her experience laid the bricks of a career that on Wednesday earned Upmeyer the 2012 HIMSS State Policy Leader Award, an annual award that HIMSS handed out during the National Health IT Week 2012 Networking Reception and Awards ceremony on Sept. 12 in Washington, D.C.
“Representative Upmeyer is receiving the 2012 HIMSS State Policy Leadership Award for demonstrating extraordinary vision and leadership in the quest to improve the quality of healthcare delivery through the adoption of healthcare information management and technology,” said Willa Fields, a member of HIMSS board of directors.
Early on in her time as a legislator, the issue of health information technologies started to manifest – particularly because, since Iowa’s is a part-time legislature, Upmeyer was doing double-duty as a cardiologist nurse practitioner. The fact that healthcare, as an industry, is a tech-laggard was right in front of her every working day – experience that inspired the health IT advocacy for which she was nominated.
Randy Haskins claimed that nominating role. As the past advocacy liaison of HIMSS Iowa Chapter and senior director of information services at Mercy Medical Center – North Iowa, Haskins has worked with Rep. Upmeyer in both capacities, her role as nurse at Mercy Medical and in the legislature.
[AHRQ's Carolyn Clancy, MD, on National Health IT Week: Celebrating HIT as an essential tool.]
“She has been closely involved with our Iowa HIMSS Chapter for a number of years on a ongoing basis for both presenting what is happening in the State Legislature as well as to listen to what is important to HIMSS members,” Haskins said. “Due to her active role with our chapter, I felt she would be a good candidate for this award. She has also been involved at the national level in the past.”
What caught Haskins eye most recently is House Resolution 135 – Upmeyer helped pass it in the Iowa Legislature – to recognize James F. Holsinger, a physician from Keokuk, Iowa for his work with electronic medical records.
“Our chapter has appreciated having the opportunity to work with someone at the state level as closely as we have with Linda,” Haskins added. “In addition she sends out a regular email that focuses on technology related issues before the legislature. This has been helpful to raise awareness.”
Upmeyer also backed the National Conference of State Legislatures Project HITCh (Health IT Champions), and attended the HIMSS09 Stage Officials Legislative Forum, according to HIMSS.
Indeed, her involvement in maintaining the ongoing relationship with the community around HIMSS local chapter and the legislature not only sparked her nomination but, perhaps more important, enabled Upmeyer to witness considerable health IT change during her decade as a legislator.
Back in those early days, seven or eight years ago, she worked to offer legislation that actually got people to sit down and discuss building systems in hospitals and doctor’s offices that would one day enable the exchange of information across health systems – an effort that Upmeyer described as feeling very siloed at the time.
“It was the very first thing we did and I have to tell you that early on in those meetings everybody kind of sat around, with their arms crossed, it was very proprietary, and so we worked hard to overcome those barriers,” Upmeyer recounted. “Now, the University of Iowa is engaged and the largest health systems are engaged. Everybody’s been working together and we built the relationships and recognized that it’s the best thing for patients and providers.”