Nursing impacts health policy

Excellence in Leadership Award winner Helen Thomson

The first-ever recipient of the Excellence in Leadership Award from the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, Helen Thomson, a registered nurse and member of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, exemplifies the school’s vision and mission through her leadership and commitment to improving health policy, especially early mental health care and expanded health insurance for children.

“I wish more nurses would get involved in the political arena,” Thomson said. “Nurses are very good advocates for people, not just in health care, but for all of their needs, because nurses work closely with people at so many ages and levels.”
As a nursing student, Thomson worked at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in the greater Boston area. She also attended nursing school at Boston University and at Royal Edinburgh University in Scotland where she helped start a psychiatric rotation.

Thomson began her public service career in 1974 when she was elected as a member of the Davis Joint Unified School District Board of Education. She was elected to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors in 1986 and reelected in 1990 and 1994.

In 1996 she won the 8th District seat in the California State Assembly where she served three terms. In the Assembly, Thomson chaired both the Health Committee and the Select Committee on Mental Health. Additionally, she served on five other Assembly standing committees, the leadership teams of four Speakers and other leadership roles. She authored 81 bills signed into law by both Democratic and Republican governors. Most notably was AB 88, the mental health parity bill, which ended the discrimination in insurance benefits for those who suffer from mental illness.

Scholarship for nursing leadership

In honor of Supervisor Thomson's accomplishments and retirement in Dec. 2010, friends, family and staff established a scholarship fund for the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis.

The Helen M. Thomson Scholarship for Nursing Leadership will support diverse, talented students who will be the next generation of nurse leaders, researchers, educators and policymakers. Scholarships such as this one provide financial support that enables countless generations of students to pursue advanced degrees while addressing the most pressing health-care issues and improving the national health-care system.

Please contact Christine Vargas, associate development officer, if you would like to contribute to this fund.

In 2002, when her assembly term ended, Thomson was elected again to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and re-elected without opposition in June 2006.

Thomson serves as chair on a variety of local and statewide boards, including the First Five Commission, The Future of the Safety Net and the Children’s Alliance of Yolo County. She served as president of California Women Lead (formerly called California Elected Women’s Association) and as first vice president of the California State Association of Counties. She remains active in both and is currently a member of the California State Association of Counties Health and Human Services Committee.

She also serves as a member of the California Health Policy Forum and the California Coalition of Compassionate Care Steering Committee where she is the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment Taskforce Chair.

Thomson has served in a number of roles in support of UC Davis as well. She was a member of the search committee for the Associate Vice Chancellor for Nursing and Dean of Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis and the committee to recommend a school of public health be established at UC Davis. She secured $50 million for UC Davis MIND Institute while in the Legislature. She is a member of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing National Advisory Council, providing valuable guidance and support.

Of continuing importance to Thomson is the Children’s Health Initiative, which provides health coverage for children of all ages who do not have health insurance, the Yolo Indigent Health Medical Services Program and Yolo County’s alcohol, drug and mental health programs. She supported the adoption of the 2030 General Plan in 2009 and continues to work on this plan for Yolo County’s historic preservation of agricultural lands, natural resources and open space, while creating opportunities for strategic economic development.

Supervisor Thomson retired in December 2010; however, her life's accomplishments will benefit future classes of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing through the Helen M. Thomson Scholarship for Nursing Leadership. The scholarship, created by friends, family and staff, was announced at her retirement party.