Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Antoinette M. Hays

USA • President, Regis College

PhD '90

Heller Alum Champions Nurses, Geriatrics and Haiti

Antoinette M. Hays, PhD '90, believes in "health care without walls"

Fall 2010

Antoinette M. Hays, PhD '90, believes that promoting the role of nurse practitioners is one viable strategy to ensuring high-quality and affordable care in this era of health care reform. "This work cannot be left only to doctors," Hays said in a recent newspaper opinion piece. "There is a shortage of primary care physicians. Nurse practitioners are educated regarding the whole person and and are attuned to nutrition, prevention and wellness. They are more present in the community and available around the clock."

With health care reform, the physician shortage will become more acute, with more than 30 million newly insured patients expected to join the ranks. And Hays' analysis is that the access problem cannot be solved unless the critical role of nurse practitioners in primary health care is recognized.

As the dean of nursing science and health professions at Regis College, Hays believes in "health care without walls." "My commitment was always outside the walls of a hospital and with the underserved," she says. "I learned the importance of being politically active and how to influence policy--but to do this I had to understand the economics at play behind the scenes and how it impacted patient care." That was where the Heller School played a role in her career development. She credits Jim Callahan, Ph.D. '68, with connecting her to the Heller School as she directed her career path toward academia.

Hays says she was awestruck by the other doctoral students and their job titles when she arrived at Heller. Her classmates were professionals who led large health care agencies, and having those leaders as peers created a whole new world for her. But, she says, she brought the real world to their table--the bedside work and her role as a self-described "street-level bureaucrat."

Today she is charged with educating a new generation of nurses. Hays built the master's program at Regis College from a student body of 150 to 700. She brings many elements of her Heller School experience to the Regis curriculum, focusing on health policy and research. Regis students learn about health policy by spending 30 field hours talking to legislators about issues affecting health care, writing editorial opinion pieces and developing mock testimony to help demystify the process and promote the engagement of nurses in the political process. Their dean certainly walks that talk as well.

Early in her career, Hays developed a passion for geriatric nursing and, along with a geriatrician, was instrumental in helping the Boston Medical Center develop interdisciplinary teams made up of physicians and nurses to provide home care, long-term care and acute care for the elderly.

She remains committed to geriatrics and hopes to attract a new generation of nurses to the field. Geriatric rotations in nursing schools occur at the beginning of the first year, when students are least able to address chronic illness. Hays proposes that the order be reversed. "New students have not yet developed a more sophisticated level of coping skills," she says. "I'd like to see the geriatrics rotation offered later in their education, when they have the resources to deal with the field's complexity. Maybe we'd have a greater number of people opting for geriatrics if they were exposed to it with more experience under their belts."

Hays' creativity extends to housing as well as health care options for the elderly. She chaired the program development committee for a proposed living and learning community for older adults on the Regis College campus. The program was designed using an "aging in place" framework to promote a new independent living vision for retirement communities. "Such a model supports older adults remaining in their independent living units even when long-term care needs increase, avoiding location change when people are most fragile," she says. "Even more important, it would be a totally integrated experience. Think of the academic synergies and intergenerational connections that would be possible--students and retirees working, teaching, mentoring and learning together." While the recession has made progress on this front difficult, Hays still has optimism that the idea will take hold when the time is right.

And if that isn't enough, Hays spends time in Haiti working with Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners in Health to assess the need for a master's in nursing program in the earthquake-torn country. Regis has had a robust faculty exchange program with Haitian nurses since 2007 as well. Hays is committed to helping in the development of a high-quality nursing program there. "Right now it is somewhat of an uphill battle to raise money for this effort," she says. "We need donors who can sustain support, because our commitment to this country is for the long term."

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