Saturday, February 18, 2017

A moral obligation

We are taught in nursing school that being a Registered Nurse is both an honor and an obligation.
We were told that our biggest obligation is to be a voice of advocacy for our patients and their families.
I believe that all the disciplines of healthcare are taught the same.
It is this obligation that leads nurses and other healthcare professionals to stand in unity, organize and collectively bargain.
It is the same obligation that drives our sisters and brothers in education and public service.

Our greatest obligation is to be an advocate to those we serve.

Central to fulfilling that obligation is the ability to speak freely, without fear of retaliation.
Otherwise, how can we advocate?

Let me speak from personnel experience.
When I started as a tech at my hospital, I felt I could speak to the president of the hospital, the head of nursing, and my boss, freely about my concerns, without fear of retaliation.
They would not always agree with me, or they might agree and be unable to act due to budget concerns, but we could have an open conversation and my obligation as an advocate was fulfilled.
With the "corporatization" of healthcare, the hospital became a business, and the top priority of the hospital shifted from caring for the patient to balancing the bottom line.
Balancing the bottom line is an important responsibility of a manager.
Certainly my members would be justifiably upset if leadership did not do so at AFT Connecticut.
But balancing the bottom line and caring for the needs of our patients are not mutually exclusive.
This shift in top priorities and the unwillingness to listen to alternative ideas is in direct opposition of the obligation to advocate for those we serve.
At this point, instead of being met with a conversation, we were met with closed ears and retaliation.

It was the loss of ability to advocate and the retaliation for doing so, that led us to organize and later led to a contract and labor/management meetings where we sit across the table as equals and discuss solutions.
It has restored the ability for us to advocate and that is all we wanted.

There is a wave of legislation, both nationally and in Connecticut, that threatens this obligation to advocate.
It is cloaked in the term "right to work."
Ironically, it is a movement that purports to protect the right to free speech. 
What it really does is weaken the bond between workers who wish to stand in unity. It is that ability to stand in unity that guarantees our ability to fulfill our obligation to advocate.
As such, so called "right to work" legislation is an affront to every profession that carries the solemn obligation to advocate for those they serve.

It is morally offensive.

Current "right to work" legislation is aimed at public sector employees.
In Connecticut, this would effect our healthcare members at The UConn Health Center.
But those in the private sector should not rest easy.
If those who put financial gain before caring for patients and families in the private sector are successful, you can be sure they are coming after us.

I urge all my sisters and brothers in nursing and other healthcare professions, private or public sector, to stand together in unity.
Only in this way can we guard our obligation to advocate.

This Tuesday, a bill is being heard before the Connecticut Legislature on this subject. Please take a few minutes to listen to Jan's message. She speaks about this bill and the different ways you can get involved to protect your ability to advocate.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


The new president has banned an entire religion from entering and in some cases, reentering, our country. People who have been properly vetted and is many cases, lived here for years.
His Secretary of Education wants to take public education funds (taxes) and give them to owners of private schools.
His HHS Secretary wants to take health insurance away from 28,000 Americans, and make it impossible for the rest of us to get insurance if we have a preexisting condition, kick us off our parents plan at age 18, not cover preventative care, and re-institute lifetime maximums on coverage.
His Attorney General wants to restrict voting rights.
His EPA Secretary has spent his political career trying to dismantle the very agency he now leads.

Need I go on?

Apparently I must, because now, he wants to roll back Dodd-Frank!

Dodd-Frank is the set of regulations enacted after the financial crisis of 2008.  It was part of the "bail-out" of banks deemed too big to fail.
Banks and financial institutions had made so many risky loans, while maintaining too little reserve, and when the economy started to decline, individuals and companies could not pay back the loans.

We can debate whether the bail-out should have occurred, but the fact is it did, and should too large to fail banks fail again, it would likely be repeated.  
Dodd-Frank better regulates large banks and Wall Street financial companies to decrease the likely-hood of another meltdown.
A total meltdown would have caused a worldwide depression, much worse than the multi-year recession in which many have not fully recovered.

But now our president, who campaigned as a man of the people, who is willing to take away healthcare coverage, public education, freedom of religion, the right to vote, environmental protection and more, is willing to risk another financial meltdown and bailout because:

“We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank, because frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine that had nice businesses, they can’t borrow money,” Mr. Trump said in the State Dining Room during his meeting with business leaders. “They just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow it because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.”

The reason they cannot borrow the money is because those kinds of loans led to the problem last time and frankly, the people the president said he would represent and help, are sick of bailing out the fat cats.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Plan the work, Work the plan

Three times a year, leadership from around the country of the Nurses and other Professional division of AFT meet in policy and planning meetings.
This week, Jean Morningstar, Jo Ann Chapin and I attended from Connecticut.
For two days we met in a windowless room to discuss and strategize, guided by what we have heard from our members.
While the battles and concerns in each state differ, there are many that are the same.

As we sat there last Sunday, we were but 9 days into the Trump administration, yet the world had changed.
Let me be clear.
The right of workers to stand together in unity is under attack.
Our public education system is under attack.
Our access to quality, affordable healthcare is under attack.
The defense of our environment is under attack.
Our rights to due process are under attack.
Our economic stability is under attack.

In what has been now 15 days, the new president, through executive orders and selections for cabinet positions, has reshaped our country.
Far from making America great again, in which the common citizen's voice is heard and respected, he is making America great for the wealthy, at the expense of the rest of us.

This is the new reality we are faced with and the atmosphere in which our discussions took place.
But the AFT is a union of 1.6 million members in 5 divisions.  Our task was not to tackle all our challenges, our task was to look at healthcare.

So we got to work.
Large group discussions, followed by breakouts into small groups.
Flip charts and magic markers.
The flow of ideas.
White sheets lining the walls by the time we were done.

Back in the large group we shared the ideas each individual group had developed.
Some were common to most groups, some unique.
Then discussion on these ideas.

All of this will be summarized by staff and shared with the entire group for comments.
From that will come a strategy direction for the executive board to combine with similar planning from the other divisions.

The challenges to healthcare start with the selection of Tom Price as Secretary of HHS.
As a U S Representative, he was a leading voice on repealing the ACA.
He also supports cuts and block grants to Medicaid and privatization of Medicare.
His stance on all of these issues is problematic.
Additionally, we face problems with decreased choice due to consolidation and corporatization of hospitals, price gouging on pharmaceuticals, surprise billing, and medical debt.
These issues will effect the healthcare and pocketbook of all Americans.
State, local and personal budgets will be effected.

Repeal of the ACA without a replacement will result in 28 million Americans losing health insurance, will mean parent's insurance for children up to age 26 will end, will mean those with pre-existing conditions like cancer will be unable to get coverage, will mean those with a serious illness will hit their lifetime maximum coverage and lose insurance, and will eliminate preventative care coverage which in the long run saves money.

We have a lot of work to do.
But we have 1.6 million intelligent and dedicated members and we are part of a larger movement of concerned citizens from labor and community.
But more than that....
As healthcare professionals, we have an ethical responsibility to act to protect our patients, just as educators have to protect their students and public servants to protect those they serve.
The AFT is a union of professionals who carry with them, as a result of their career choices, extra ethical responsibilities and commitment.

We will defend our values, and we will do so with a plan.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Standing room only

We had set up chairs for 75 people, hoping we wouldn't be embarrassed by an empty room at the Norwich Senior Center on Wednesday night.
Our Eastern Connecticut Healthcare Coalition was holding a public forum with our congressman, Joe Courtney.
That worry was unfounded as people filed in, and filed in, and filed in.
But the time we started, we had filled every available spot with extra chairs and still people had to line the outside of the room standing.
Joe spoke of the threats to healthcare in this country that are coming from the Trump administration; the repeal of the ACA, block grants for Medicaid, privatization of Medicare. Local community and labor leaders echoed his concerns that 18 million Americans could  lose healthcare coverage. They also spoke of concerns over the further consolidation of hospitals into Mega Healthcare corporations who fail to put patients before profits.

But we weren't there just to lament over the destruction of healthcare, we were there as a call to action. Like the hundreds of thousands who gathered in Washington last weekend for the Women's March and the 10,000 who gathered in Hartford the same day, we were there because it's time to act.
That's why the room was full.
AFT Director of Nurses and Healthcare Professional's Kelly Trautner, and Local presidents Harry Rodriquez and Lisa D'Abrosca spoke of efforts underway to push back and called the concerned citizens to action.
The next morning, I was asked to stand in for AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel at a press conference while she spoke at a rally.
Like the night before, the hearing room for the press conference was packed with citizens speaking in support of a bill that would correct an injustice that denies undocumented Connecticut students the ability to apply for financial aid, financial aid that their tuition funds.
At the press conference State Senator Mae Flexor said Connecticut will reject the agenda of the Trump administration. At the Rally, Jan issued a call to action to protect higher education for all.

I believe we will.
These are dark times.
Some see others who may look different than us, maybe due to darker skin, a foreign accent, a different way to pray, or to love, as a threat.
But there are many who continue to see them as our sisters and brothers.
The packed Mall in Washington and the standing room only crowds in Connecticut show that.
At the forum on Wednesday night, CCAG's Ann Pratt reminded us that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Well, we're standing now, lets lace up those shoes, we've got marching to do.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

What now?

Yesterday, Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States.

What now?

Some people think that democrats should oppose everything he and the republican congress proposes, others think they should try to find common ground.
Most remain unsure what Trump believes in and stands for.

He ran on a populist campaign, promising to make America great again by putting American workers first in every decision. He spoke to that in his address yesterday.

But his actions don't match his words.

Many of his cabinet picks have histories that show they do not put middle class workers first.
His picks for Secretaries of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Attorney General are particularly disturbing.
I have nothing against private schools but I do not think taking middle class taxes and paying for private schools is a middle class value, as DeVos advocates.
I have nothing against improving the Affordable Healthcare Act but I do not think a plan that would strip insurance from 18 million Americans, tax the value of employer provided health insurance as income, and come with lifetime maximums on benefits which mean if your child is born with a bad heart or develops leukemia, you would quickly run out of insurance, incur high medical debt, and maybe lose your house, is a middle class value, as Price proposed as a member of congress.

Recently Trump has started to promise that his healthcare plan would provide insurance for everyone.
Great, that's a middle class value!
Then why was his first executive order, signed only hours after becoming president, to repeal the ACA? His administration has marching orders to do everything they can under the law to circumvent the ACA until congress passes a full repeal.

So far, his actions don't match his words. They do not show he supports middle class values.

So what do we do to protect middle class workers and the students, patients and public we serve?

Let me tell you what I did yesterday.

With the other offices of AFT Connecticut, we visited with the members of UHP, the healthcare professionals of John Dempsey Hospital, 2,600 AFT nurses and other healthcare members who work for the state of Connecticut.  Bill Garrity, their president, had invited Jan Hochadel, AFT Connecticut president, there to lead a discussion about the challenges facing our state and country and how it will effect their hospital and patients.  For an hour she answered question after thoughtful question, and listened to their concerns.

That's what we do now. As always, the answer is simple. We talk to our members, we talk to our patients, we talk to our students and their parents, we talk to our legislators and we talk to our neighbors.
But, more than talk....
we listen.
We organize, we engage, we mobilize.
We stand together for the values we believe in. We stand with those who support our values and we oppose those who seek to destroy them.