Leaders of organizations representing 70,000 Registered Nurses and other allied professionals took a major step this week towards creating a new national nurses' organization.

Meeting in San Diego, the group adopted a name -- the American Association of Registered Nurses (AARN) -- targeted priorities for legislative and workplace changes, and hired a national advocate to press for gains in Congress.

Participants in the AARN include the California Nurses Association, Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), Maine State Nurses Association (MSNA), Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, and United Health Care Workers of Missouri.

Nurses groups from New York and Arizona were informal participants in the San Diego meeting.

``AARN was created by and for direct care RNs,'' said CNA President Kay McVay, RN, ``to address the issues facing patients and their families -- safe RN-to-patient staffing being the primary concern.''

``Nurses in this country need a voice for those fighting on the front lines, a voice that is not afraid to take on the health care industry as it continues to promote policies and practices that endanger patients and harm nurses,'' said MNA President Karen Higgins, RN.

AARN members will work together on national projects and support each other in state legislative, collective bargaining, and organizing campaigns.

For example, the member groups have sponsored a federal bill to prohibit mandatory overtime in hospitals and hired a Washington-based public interest advocate to promote national legislation. The organizations held an organizing institute in California last year to help train nurse activists on union representation campaigns. A second organizing institute is planned later this year in Philadelphia.

``AARN will be the voice in America for bedside nurses to bring their issues to the forefront,'' noted PASNAP President Teri Evans, RN.

``Nurses have long needed a strong voice to protect our practice and our ability to give safe patient care. That voice is the AARN,'' added Nancy Ford, RN, of the MSNA.

On a state to state level, the groups are already working together.

Nurses from all the groups attended a rally in California last September promoting implementation of California's first in the nation minimum nurse-to-patient ratios law.

The ratios, required by a CNA-sponsored law, are widely seen as a cure for the nursing shortage and eroding patient care conditions. Other states hope to use those ratios as a model for safe staffing in their states, as in Massachusetts where the MNA has sponsored similar legislation.

AARN members have assisted the UHCW on a representation campaign currently underway in St. Louis. Several groups are working on state legislation, similar to the national bill, to ban mandatory overtime. The nurses are also cooperating on promoting efforts, such as is currently underway in Maine, to adopt a universal health coverage system.