Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Caring, Compassion, Community, Courage

I was on the strike line today. We still do not have a contract. Management claims that we are unwilling to negotiate, which isn't true. They want us to accept an insulting "last, best, and final offer" from their side, which is the act of dictatorship, not negotiation. At other hospitals, Sutter has taken to implementing the changes they want, circumventing the rules of the National Labor Relations Board. Sutter thinks it is above the law.

I am proud to stand with my fellow nurses, who asked that we think of our being together in the union as an act of "caring, compassion, community, and courage." I strike because I care about safe care for my patients. The changes that Sutter wants makes safe care a crap shoot. I have worked with unsafe staffing, and it's scary. Sutter needs to value nurses, not demean them.

An RN working at one of our facilities, fearing reprisal, wrote an anonymous letter and sent it to the local media. I am sharing it below. Her message is important. Think about the work that RNs do, and support us, if you are able!

Dear Readers,

It is with great sadness that I read articles in our local newspapers, disparaging nurses, our work as nurses, our profession and our work colleagues. It is on those days that I wish you could walk a day in my shoes.

Because when I walk into the Sutter Intensive Care Unit where I work, I do so with the strength, purpose, and character to do the very best job I can to take care of my patients. And my patients are the sickest of the sick, coming to the hospital with an extensive list of illnesses and medical conditions, in a medical crisis.

On my shift I most often take care of two patients on life support who have machines breathing for them. And because they cannot do anything for themselves, I clean the runny snotty secretions from their nose, mouth and throat. I wash and bathe their sweaty, soiled bodies, and when they have a loose bowel movement on themselves, I clean their bottom and replace their hospital gowns and bed linen. I feed them their nutrition, and when their doctor visits, I ensure they get the treatment, medications, and therapies that will help them make progress and improve so that they can get better and rejoin their families at home.

And when a patient’s heart stops, I am part of the team of nurses that works tirelessly to save a life, or when blood pressure falls dangerously low, I work to get the medications and treatments to pump blood to their vital organs. If a patient stops breathing, the team is there to ensure that they the life support ventilation they need immediately. And when the time comes for my patient to leave this world, and their family members are too scared to be with them, or cannot be there, I am there to hold my patient's hand, to comfort them and their families with the kindness and words they need at a time when they need it most.

My job is not glamorous, but every day I treat every one of my patients as if they were my mom or dad or husband or child because every one of my patients deserves the very best treatment we can give them, often times on holidays when I dearly wish both they and I could be at home with our families.

At my job I am often yelled at by overworked doctors or by tired family members who are stressed out because their family member is so ill, or because they feel scared or guilty that they couldn't do things differently. I am often screamed at because I cannot come to the phone to answer it fast enough when I am taking great care of my patients and our management has cut our secretarial staff. I am yelled at because I have to wait longer and call more often to get medications from our pharmacy because management has cut our pharmacy staff. I have to make do with fewer wash cloths and towels because we don't have resources. I have to do without my lunch breaks and chart instead because our staffing has been cut. We have nobody to take care of our patients if we step away to get lunch, and we are not allowed to file overtime. I can't take or make calls to my family or doctor's office, and I'm lucky if I get a bathroom break before I am desperate.  And when our nurses talk to our managers about our safety concerns about short staffing, it is important that you know our concerns fall on deaf ears.

And so I wonder how you as a reader and member of the community wants to take care of the person who saves your life or your loved one's life: that nurse who is there for you when you need comfort or care the most. Would you want us to go without healthcare insurance, sick time or lunch breaks? Would you want us to have so many patients that we cannot do our jobs safely? Would you be upset if we did not have the support and supplies to allow us to take the best care of your loved one? And if we injure ourselves on the job moving a patient or contract some illness from our patients, would you want us to come to work anyway and have it interfere with how we care for you?

Should we be compensated like our executives Pat Fry, CEO, $4,788,548, Martin Brotman, Sutter West Bay, $4,287.671, Sara Krevans, Sutter Sacramento Sierra Region, $2.094,933 and Ed Berdick, Sutter East Bay Hospitals, $2,015,930? We are asking for the same wages we make now, not a raise. The very same contract, without cuts. 

Newspaper journalists and Sutter Health report to you that we make exorbitant salaries and have "Cadillac health plans."  I think it is important that your hear from the nurses that take care of you in your community if you are very Ill. I will not make a six-figure salary working a full-time job this year, and my colleague, who just retired after 35 years of service to her community as a Registered Nurse, will make less than $12,000 dollars per year in retirement--not the $84,000 dollars/year reported by Sutter Health. I will retire with NO HEALTH BENEFITS, and if I fall injured on the job as many of my colleagues have, it will be "tough luck" for me from Sutter Health. 

If Sutter implements the changes they propose, your nursing staff will have to come to work to take care of you if they are sick. You will receive less time from your nurses when you are in the hospital, and your nurses will no longer be able to advocate for your care. Your nurse will be placed in unsafe working conditions, and your safety may be compromised. I am surprised that it raised no flags or concerns with our community that a hospital representative and MD would describe a Sutter Health nurse's health insurance plan a "Cadillac health plan" and wants to compromise your health care. When you are priced out of your healthcare, know that your nurses were fighting for you.

In closing I ask you to ask questions of your nurses; find out why they are fighting as they strike for you, their community, and for themselves. When Sutter Health tells you we are asking for too much, know that we are not asking for anything new, and we are out on the line to help maintain the quality of health care for everyone in our community. Please support us as we do. 
Registered Nurse, ICU at a Sutter Health Hospital
Posted anonymously, due to fear of being reprimanded by my employer


jimm said...

I think most people truly don't know what a nurse goes through on a typical shift. I hope the letter serves to educate. You deserve better than a simple extension of last year's contract, let alone cuts in this time of rising costs.
I would come stand in line with you if I could.

ms. marginalia said...

Thank you, Jim! We will see how it goes after this strike. I appreciate your support so very much.