Monday, March 28, 2011

springtime and a new beginning!

It is not always easy to stand up to someone in authority. I remember the first time I stood up to a Trauma Surgeon about his behavior during a Code Red. His yelling was not helping the Trauma Team. It was increasing the anxiety level and making people all thumbs. It was difficult. He was an intimidating man. But It had to be done for my team and for the patient.
Last Monday, in the spirit of cooperation, we presented David Whitehead, president of Backus Hospital, a letter letting him know that an overwhelming majority of Backus Nurses want to form a union and that we can prove it. The small group of nurses presenting did so with the utmost pride as the representatives of Backus RNs. Our goal is to form a partnership with administration so we can give our patients the best possible care. Those responsible for direct patient care must be respected and treated as equals. The presentation of this letter was in the spirit of partnership. We are not afraid of a vote: we welcome it.
Offering administration a chance to voluntarily recognize our union was a courtesy consistent with normal protocol and with federal law.

We were ignored.

He would not meet with us.

This Monday we filed with the Labor Board seeking an election to certify our local. While we wish the hospital would have recognized us, we will not be deterred. We hope that administration will respect us in this process and not waste hospital money trying to interfere. Regardless of the stance the hospital takes, we will prevail. We stand proud and tall as an overwhelming majority. When we win the election, the hospital will be required by law to recognize us and bargain in good faith. As partners, we will be in a better position to advocate for our patients, our families, our community and ourselves.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Recently I received a text from a young nurse, in her 20's, she's been a nurse only about a year.
"It's not getting any easier to work up on here. It's getting harder and harder to want to come in. The patient assignments are ridiculous and some people are getting pushed to the side because I have an admission and another patient is going bad. I became a nurse because I want to help them feel better. Whether it's from relieving pain or being a gentle ear. I can't work with 6 patients that have wound vac's and g tubes and have the Admission along with a patient going into CHF or having chest pain and still feel like I'm good at my job or keeping my patients safe. It's getting really frustrating. I feel the need to share my frustration with you because I know you're frustrated too. I just don't know how much more I can take of it."
I told her that she was justified in her feelings, and that's why we are working on forming our union. But it wasn't very satisfying. I want to do more. I want to go up to her floor and stand next to her when she's feeling pushed to the edge and give her a hand. You can mess with me, but don't mess with my young nurses. They are the future of our profession. They are bright and energetic, but they have limits and they need our support. If for no other reason, this text legitimizes all the work we have poured into this union effort.
Never again at Backus Hospital will someone sitting in an office make decisions that drive a young nurse to feel like this, not without our pushing back!
We are many, we are strong, we are ready!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


"For myself, the level of outrage is greater than my nervousness. " That was my answer to Judy Benson of The Day. She had asked if we were scared of retaliation for attempting to form a union. We had just taken the first step to moving our effort into the public arena. It was one thing to operate in the shadows, something altogether different to step into the light. Yet 16 of us did it that day, signing a statement of purpose and speaking with the press.

Were we scared? You bet we were, but we had taken all we could, we were outraged! So we stood proud, each of us relying on the other 15, because to stay in the shadows would doom our effort.

Do we face fear in nursing? Remember your first day in clinicals? Your first full assignment on your own? What about standing up to a doctor to advocate for your patient? Titrating multiple drips while a patient clung to life? Caring for a child, not being sure they would make it? Facing a psychotic or angry patient? Having to be the one to tell a family that their loved one has died?

We face fear and figure out a way to get through it, because there is no other acceptable option. We stand together now because again we have no other option.

It saddens me that fear is so often the weapon of choice for our administration. What does it say when someone is afraid to sign a union card? When someone is afraid to speak out in favor? To me it says that administration's tactics are working, but it also proves our point, we are not free to speak up for ourselves or our patients.

There is something about doing things together that gives you strength, that makes you brave to do things you would not be able to accomplish otherwise. As more of us come together all across the hospital and there is less and less fear, the things we can do are boundless.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

No Irish Need Apply

"No Irish need apply" the young lad read the sign in the shop as he stepped off the boat in Boston. Poor, with little formal education, he, like many, came to this country, fleeing the famine back home. They were discriminated against and taken advantage of. If he could find work it would be dangerous and dirty. He would be payed poorly not because his employer couldn't pay more but because he didn't have too. His landlord would overcharge him and crowd him and 10 others into a house made for 4, because the landlord could. The young man's assets; his strong back and hands, his willingness to work hard, and the shear number of his kind. They banded together in religious, fraternal, political, and union organizations. They took over the politics of the eastern cities. The police and fire departments became there homes. In 1900, Irish Americans of birth or descent held the leadership of almost half of the 110 unions in the American Federation of Labor. What they could not do alone they could and did do together. There's is a courageous story, a heroic story, but not an unique story. It is repeated in various forms by immigrant groups over and over. Discrimination leads to organization and then betterment for all. Whatever land our ancestors came from, whatever race, color or creed, discrimination found us. But it made us stronger and smarter and more compassionate for our fellow human beings. That is why, when you see your co-workers manipulated or lied to, as the nurses of A2 were recently when told they could not talk about their union unless they punched out and left the floor, it gnaws at your stomach. That is why when your patients have their peanut butter and Italian ice taken away because it "costs too much" your heart cries for them. That is why when they force you to use substandard equipment on your patients your soul cries out "enough"! That is why when they tell you that a float pool nurse is worth more than you, an experienced Oncology, Med-surg, cardiac, CCU, Emergency, OR, Recovery, etc nurse, your anger boils. Just like that lad fresh off the boat in Boston, alone we can do little, but like him we have strong hands, a strong back, a strong work ethic, and a compassion for our fellow human being. Just like him we are strong when we stand together. We can and we will stand together. We can and we will make things better. They say on St Patrick's Day everyone is Irish. In the sense that like the early Irish Americans we are united, they are right.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


“I support the right for workers to form a union,” Malloy told the nurses. “There is a process under way at Backus, and I will respect the outcome of that process.”
So said Governor Dan Malloy when he met us Wednesday night.
30 Backus nurses met in a large room. We formed chairs into a circle, we hung AFT union banners and flags on the walls, some of us in still in scrubs, we waited for the governor. We were told he had a long tiring day, he was coming from the meeting at Norwich town hall with the voters, defending his budget. He took the time after all this to meet us. Why?
As he entered the room he called out "Is there a nurse in the room?" He circled the room shaking hands and introducing himself then he took a chair. He spoke of his late mother being a nurse, of how she had formed a nursing association, the precursor to unions. He spoke of his aunts being nurses and how his relatives were still members of the same union they helped form. He spoke of how it is the right of a worker to form unions and how he supports that right.
Then he said it must have taken a lot of negative changes to get us to take such a stand. We told him that Backus had been a community hospital that placed patients first, but now it was a business that placed money first. We told him they have taken away so much in pay and benefits that young nurses don't stay around, they leave after a few years and that the patients suffer from the loss of experienced nurses. He understood us, he said Backus is what people call a "training hospital". But I think what got to him the most was when we told him we wanted to work as partners with administration to return Backus to what it once was and even better because nursing isn't just a profession, it's a vocation. His response was that he truly believed nursing was a calling.
It was getting late, he had a long day, but he took the time to listen and respect us and wish us well. He took some pictures with us before he left.
He and his advisers made a conscience decision to meet with us, they knew the message it would send, that he respects the rights of all workers to form unions, that in particular, he respects and supports our effort at Backus.
In our Statement of Purpose we said, "William Backus Hospital has always had a tradition of striving for excellence: however, this cannot exist without a real partnership between the RNs and the administration.....Partnership can only exist when responsibility and respect are present in equal portions. At Backus Hospital those of us responsible for providing the care have seen respect steadily eroding away. We will not allow that to continue."
In a conversation I had with an A2 Oncology nurse this week she summed it up this way, "They even took away the peanut butter from my patients, they need that protein whenever they aren't nauseous"
Let's give her the ability to fulfill her calling, caring for the sickest of the sick, let's give her that peanut butter.
When we speak with one voice we will be able to do that. When we speak with one voice we will be partners. When we speak with one voice we will be strong. When we speak with one voice we will demand respect.
Thank you Governor Malloy, thank you Paul Deutsch MD, thank you Senator Edith Prague, thank you to the many doctors who have come to us privately and expressed their support, thank you to the other legislators and community leaders who have expressed support, thank you to all the courageous RNs and LPNs who have spoken out publicly, thank you to all who have signed union cards and are spreading truth in the halls of Backus to counter the lies of fear and intimidation of management. Our day of respect, of partnership, is near, and it is all because of you.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's what we do

 On a recent Saturday, Kim C asked me if I wanted to come in early for Sunday.  "They're real short staffed,” she said.  I told her that was not a good selling point but I agreed.  Later as I was setting the alarm for 2AM I blamed my decision on low blood sugar. 
This will be good I told myself.  I'll get to see some of the night shift that I only see in passing and it'll be slow so early on a Sunday morning.
So, I get this patient who weights 400 lbs and has been having chest pain since Friday, diabetic, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoker, amputated toes, and open wounds on the feet.  Negative blood work but abnormal EKG (ya think?), they need to be transferred for a cardiac cath.
It all went well, but by 0600 my easy Sunday morning was shot and I had another 9 hours to go. What can I say, that's what we do.
"I endorse the union effort wholeheartedly, both privately and publicly,” said a well-respected cardiologist, "Nurses are the greatest patient advocates. Whatever makes the nurses stronger makes the hospital better." Another highly respected physician, Dr Paul Deutsch has spoken out twice in the newspaper in support of Backus nurses.
The comments on the Day website after the March 4 article on diversion indicate that the view that administration has lost touch with reality.
On Monday, some of our members met with state senator Edith Prague in Hartford. On Wednesday we met with governor Dan Malloy in Norwich.
Administration is increasingly being seen as out of touch with the staff and reality. We have become the voice of reason, increasing accepted as the only sane leadership of the hospital.
This is an awesome responsibility, one we need to contemplate and prepare for.
But we have contemplated it. We have prepared for it. We live it every day at the bedside. We advocate every day on the floor. We are ready. We are willing. We are able. It's what we do.
We are accepting our role as partners at Backus Hospital. There is only one question remaining, will administration step up and accept their role in this partnership?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Working Together

Many times in the ED we are overwhelmed,either by volume or acuity. A code, a stroke, an heart attack, a major trauma, coming without warning, requires multiple hands working together. Maybe that is why we seem to have this team thing down pretty well. It truly is a case of the total being greater than the sum of it's parts.
I attended the United Way night at Foxwoods this week. I sat with the state leadership of AFT CT, and leaders and members of the 3 L+M AFT locals. Melodies Peters, our state VP was one of the co-chairs and the L+M locals were being honored for their high level of involvement. It was enlightening on several levels. I got to see that we at Backus are not alone. We will be an independent local but part of a larger federation of locals,from other Connecticut hospitals and schools and across the nation. This federation gives us strength and yet we maintain our independence. I also got to see several companies in partnership with their unions doing great things for those in need. It need not be "them against us".
I am told by those who have gone through organization efforts that when it is over both sides will sit as equals and work things out, I look forward to that day. I would hope that administration's goals are the same as ours-that we employees have a voice and that we work together to make our hospital a better place for all to work and be treated.
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Tuesday, March 1, 2011


One day last week we had 25 holds in our 33 bed ED!  What is going on? Where are all these people coming from?  The last 3 weeks have been unbelievable, on diversion part of most days, borrowing stretchers from around the hospital, people in every hallway and corner.  We're getting tired.  Administration assures us that every bed is being utilized, I am not sure.

One of the roles of a nurse, one of the most important roles I think, is to advocate for his patients.  Saturday I had the opportunity to do that in a new way for me.  My state representative, Mae Flexer, Representative Rovero of Putnam, and state senate president Don Williams held an open house in Killingly.  I had spoken to Mae last week at church and filled her in on our union effort at work.  She had many good questions and offered to help in any way she could.  I wanted to drop off a mission statement and our first 2 newsletters to her and also do the same for senator Williams.  What I did not know is that there would be me, 25 members of the tea party, and 3 democratic legislators.  Let me just say, my views do not align with the tea party's.  I felt the need to be debriefed after the 2 hours.  I did get the chance to speak with both Mae and Don in private.  I gave them both copies of the  literature.  Senator Williams was not yet aware of our efforts so I filled him in. He thanked me for the literature and update and is looking forward to a more formal meeting with some of us in the future.  Yes, it was a painful 2 hours, but important in fulfilling our obligation to advocate for our patients, our families, ourselves, our community and our hospital.  I see all of these obligations as intertwined.  Someday in the future, a patient at Backus will be sick and a nurse with experience will recognize what is happening and act quickly and the patient will have an improved outcome.  That experienced nurse will be at bedside because we had the courage and determination to advocate for them now.  We will not see the result of that interaction but it will happen.

A big thank you to our colleagues at other area hospitals and other departments for helping us out these past few weeks, we couldn't do it without you.  Our union is not some outside "third party ", it is me and you and the nurses you work with every day, coming together, reaching a consensus, and speaking with one voice. We will be partners with administration, working to make Backus better.For this to happen we need active members from every floor, every shift, every age group, because it is diversity of ideas that makes us strong.Is this dream possible? You bet it is! It is happening already, one floor at a time. I invite you to join us.