What nurses really want
NNU members in Washington. | NNU

Each year, there’s a special week to honor America’s most trusted profession: nurses! We become nurses because it’s our calling, and we do it for our patients, not for accolades. But we also know that the oath we take to help and heal all people — is constantly hindered by employers who cut corners to boost profits. And that makes management’s “We appreciate you!” box of Krispy Kremes during Nurses Week fall a bit flat.

“One time [during Nurses Week, the hospital hired] a clown, which was supremely insulting. We often get donuts, we often get pizza. These are things that are cheap, don’t require much thought, and it reflects how the hospital thinks about us,” said RN Toni Fowler, of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where nurses are fighting to form a union with the help of National Nurses United. (Did JHH think a clown would cheer up the short-staffed nurses?)

A recent National Nurses United Facebook post asking “What’s the most ridiculous thing management has given out for nurses week?” netted responses ranging from “special rocks with calming words on them” to “cake pops — and you could only have one.”

Of course, nurses will take a meal break when we can get one! It’s just that a slice of pepperoni will never be as satisfying to us as having the protections and resources we need to provide safe patient care. This Nurses Week, here are a few things nurses REALLY want:

Safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios

“I bet if I had more patients, I could provide even better care!” … said no one, ever. Yet, in 49 states, it’s perfectly legal for health care employers to boost profits by saddling one nurse with more patients than she can safely care for at once. This not only puts our patients’ lives at risk, but it also creates major stress, panic, liability, and burnout for nurses, whose every shift feels like trying to save lives — while simultaneously being hit by a firehose.

So while our employers mark Nurses Week by giving us plenty of cake, what we really want is for them to show us some respect by assigning plenty of staff, so we can all safely care for sick and injured patients. Union nurses have stood together and used solidarity to win change, with the California Nurses Association winning safe staffing ratios in California. National Nurses United is also championing safe staffing at the federal level and at the state level, such as Illinois.

The good news? A new federal safe staffing bill, sponsored by National Nurses United, is coming. Join NNU’s Facebook page where we will post actions and ways to contact your legislator to tell them to sign on.

Protections from an epidemic of violence

Violence against nurses and other health care and social assistance workers has reached epidemic proportions. Between 2011 and 2016, at least 58 hospital workers died as a result of violence in their workplaces.

Studies show that having a comprehensive, unit-specific violence prevention plan in place — created with the input of employees — can drastically reduce violence. But our employers will never enact those plans on their own. Nurses have held them accountable through workplace violence prevention contract language, and also through legislation.

RNs with the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United fought to win nation-leading workplace violence protections in the Golden State, mandating that all California health care employers must have a comprehensive, unit-specific prevention plan in place. Nevada nurses with the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United, are currently taking major steps forward in the fight for the same protections in that state.

And because all nurses across the country deserve to be safe at work, NNU is also championing federal workplace violence legislation, sponsored by Rep. Joe Courtney. Want to help enact this lifesaving legislation? Tell your representative to sign on to HR 1309, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act.

The power of our collective voice

Nurses must be able to advocate for our patients as a unified front, with the full power of our collective voice. On that note, what would really make us feel respected  is management respecting our right to form a union.

“We want to have the busting activities stopped,” said Fowler, whose effort to unionize, along with her Johns Hopkins Hospital colleagues, has been impacted by the hospital spending exorbitant amounts of money on union busting and intimidating nurses who want to unionize in violation of their legal rights.

“We would like to have some sincere thank yous, and we’d like to have the administration walk a mile in our shoes,” said Fowler.

Nurses are also fighting for the VA Employee Fairness Act, designed to give nurses at VA hospitals the same collective bargaining powers as nursing assistants, clinicians, and nursing unit clerks at the VA. As things stand, VA nurses are not allowed to negotiate for nurse-to-patient ratios, they are not allowed to negotiate on compensation or on their pension

Until all employers really listen to what nurses want, the power of collective action and the security of a union contract can help nurses achieve the patient care conditions we really want (and need!).

Medicare for All

As advocates for public health and safety, nurses cannot bear to watch one more patient suffer or die needlessly simply due to inability to pay.

“For nurses week, what nurses really want is Medicare for All! It’s very important to me. I have family members who are uninsured, and this would save lives,” said RN Francis Capellan, who provides care to veterans in the Bronx.

In the United States, we pay more for our health care than any other country, and yet millions of people are uninsured or under-insured and can’t get the lifesaving care they need. The Medicare for All Act of 2019 — H.R. 1384 in the House and S. 1804 in the Senate — would change all of that. It would expand our current Medicare system to provide high-quality, comprehensive health care to everyone.

So while our employers are reaping astronomical profits in this broken, immoral system — nurses are doing what we have done for decades: leading the growing, grassroots Medicare for All movement, because health care is a human right. Join the fight here.

This article was distributed by National Nurses United.


CONTRIBUTOR

Bonnie Castillo
Bonnie Castillo

Bonnie Castillo is a registered nurse and Executive Director of National Nurses United.

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