Sunday, May 29, 2011

I think Grandpa would be proud

When I was growing up we visited my grandparents most weekends. We spent summer evenings playing in their yard with our cousins. In Grandma and Grandpa's living room was a tall piano. I never saw anyone play it but on top of it was a line of wooden hammers. I later learned these were Grandpa’s gavels and that Grandpa, James J Brady, received one for each session of the Rhode Island State Senate that he presided over as President Pro Tem. He had done what many Irish Americans had done, served in politics. The early Irish Americans saw politics as a way to improve the lives of their families and their communities. On several occasions he acted as the Governor in the absence of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. His daughters became teachers and all his son's enlisted and served in the armed forces in World War II. My own father, John J Brady, left college and enlisted in the US Marines. He was wounded during an amphibious landing on a beach in the south Pacific when he was hit by a flamethrower. Only the valor of his buddies pulling him to safety saved him. His burns kept him in the hospital in San Diego for a year, he received Last Rites more than once. He survived with multiple skin grafts. Some time after meeting my wife she confided that the first time she met him she was shocked by the scars on his face, I had never noticed. He went on to get his degree, marry, and raise 6 children. He died of a heart attack at age 60, too young, and yet God had given him 40 extra years and he never spent another day in the hospital. He never entered politics but always felt a duty to vote in every election. He taught me that every person has dignity, whatever his race, religion, or position. He taught me to never seek out a fight but to never run from one either. I miss him every day.
What we have done in forming a union is something I believe my grandparents, my father, and my uncles would be proud of. I know my mother and my aunts are. We have stood together, tall and proud, we have stood against adversity, fighting for what lives in the deepest place in our hearts. We have stood up although we feared it might cost us our jobs as we struggled against one of the best union busting firms in the country, Jackson Lewis. We had no choice, we had to, we were compelled to, because of something deep inside us.

This is my story, but I am sure each of us has a similar story, about those who influenced us.

Now it is time to get to work again, to work together with management, but I could not look forward without taking a moment to look back and recognize where we came from and acknowledge those who made us who we are.

I think they would be proud.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Deep Breath

The first responder comes upon an MVA. She calls 911 and stays with the driver until the ambulance arrives.
Deep breath.
The ambulance crew stabilizes the patient and transports to the hospital.
Deep breath.
The ED gets X-rays, CT, labs, gives blood, and transports to the OR.
Deep breath.
The OR performs initial lifesaving surgery and hands off to critical care.
Deep breath.
The initial steps of survival and eventual recovery.

Months have passed since our first meetings with organizers and fellow nurses in coffee shops. Many hours in meetings, visiting houses, talking with nurses, planning and making decisions. It wasn’t easy, there were many episodes of personal attacks, being called traitors, bullies, being accused of neglecting patients, being told our coworkers had complained. We have withstood captive audience meetings, as a group and when managers cornered us one on one.
We stood strong because we stood together, and we prevailed. We should be proud of what we have accomplished, we have done what few people ever get the chance to do, we have built a union.
Deep breath.
Now we go to the next step, there is still work to do. The patient is stabilized and now recovery can begin.
We are reaching out to ALL RNs. Every nurse has an equal voice, regardless of their feelings prior to the vote, regardless of the level of their involvement up to this point. We are forming a bargaining committee to lead us and we must all stay involved. There is a role for everyone.
Like the links in the Chain of Survival, our union will only be as strong as our weakest link, our least involved member.
Join us on this journey. If you have been waiting, consider this your invitation. We both want and need you. We begin this Friday at our first meeting/victory party. Hope to see you there.
Deep breath.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Everyday Heroes

Carol stops by the school on the way home from work to pick up the kids from after school recreation, she's been on her feet all day, and she really needs to sit with a glass of wine. She catches the end of Oprah on her 12-inch under the counter TV while she prepares supper.
She finally sits to eat, gets the first bite of mashed potatoes, and the tones go off!
Tonight she's "running" with her town ambulance crew. She is one of the countless men and women across our country who volunteers their time and energy to keep all of us safe. Their reward is only the knowledge that what they do is noble and right, that they truly make a difference.
Across this country and around the world Emergency Medical Services members are the front line of our safety. The EMRs, EMTs, Paramedics, Fire and Police, paid and volunteers, truly are everyday heroes.
She gets up from the table, grabbing a piece of chicken and heads out the door. It's Mrs. Jones from across town, her CHF acting up. (Probably that ham she's been eating). By the time Carol gets to the hospital, gives turnover, writes her report, returns the ambulance and gets home, it's 9:15. There's a plate of food in the refrigerator that her family prepared, ready to warm in the microwave. She's too tired to eat. She showers and crawls into bed, asleep before her head hits the pillow, it's 9:50.
10:30, the tones go off.
"Are you fricking kidding me?!"
It's an MVA, a car into a tree. 2 high school students, same school as her son. One of them will not survive.
These are the calls she hates.
She performs like the professional she is, she calls for a paramedic and lifestar, she packages them up. The paramedic arrives first, he makes the tough call, who flies to the level 1 trauma center, who goes by ground with him, to a level 3. Carol goes with the medic, after they hand off to the trauma team she retreats to the EMS office and does her report.
She is tired, she is hungry, she is emotionally spent, and she cries.
Her EMS brothers and sisters are there for her, they are a tight community, bonded together in a way that must be witnessed to understand, felt to be understood.

1am, Carol crawls back into bed and wraps herself around her husband.  She will fill him in tomorrow, she wants him to sleep. He rolls over, he knows it was a rough night from listing to the radio, he holds her tight. In 4 hours the alarm-clock will go off and another day will begin.

May 15-21 is set aside to honor these men and women, our everyday heroes. God bless them all, keep them safe, and keep them always in our hearts.
I consider myself blessed as an ER nurse to get to witness this heroism on a daily basis. It is an honor to know them and to call them friends.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thank You SPFPA

I took his blood pressure when he first arrived in the ED.  His upper arm muscles were so large I had to take it on his forearm.  I was a tech and I was assigned to be the "sitter", watching the psych patients. I don't remember what brought him in but he was placed in our seclusion room, a locked room with a door that had a window.  I sat at a nearby desk and watched him on a TV to make sure he was safe.

At one point during the shift he came to the window and called me.  I leaned toward  the window  to hear and he told me that he was going to hang himself.
I called his nurse and she felt like he was being manipulative so she asked him to lay on the stretcher while we waited for the  psych clinician.  He returned to the stretcher and settled down.  He was laying on his side with his back to the camera for some time.  I thought he had fallen asleep.
Suddenly he jumped up, walked to the far side of the stretcher and disappeared from view. I went to the door and only then did I realize what he had done.  He had taken a sheet and tied it to the stretcher rail, slipped it over his neck, and laid himself to the floor.


I called loudly for help, threw open the door, rushed to his side and struggled to get the sheet off his neck.
The next thing I knew he was standing with his huge arms wrapped around my neck in a choke hold.
Security was there in an instant and pulled him off of me.  I have a vague recollection of what happened next.  I was not injured, he was safe in security's hands.  I think I was taken to the break room and given coffee and rest time, but I'm not even sure.

What would have happened if security had not been there so quickly?  I cannot know if he would have really hurt me.  I know for sure, he had the power to.
Security was there for me that day, as they always have been for me and countless coworkers.
The hospital can be a dangerous place at times, people are under stress and are not always rational.  Our security force is ready, and I am so glad for that.  They do not get the thanks they deserve.

To the officers of the Backus Hospital security force and their support staff, to the telephone operators who keep the vital lines of communications open, to the shuttle bus drivers who get us safely to and from the hospital, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

To the members of the Backus local of the International Union, Security and Fire Professionals of America a heartfelt thanks, for keeping us safe and for leading the way.
You stand up for us each and every day, we will stand with you.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Let us begin

Wednesday was a historic day for Backus Hospital in Norwich, CT.  For the first time in 118 years the RNs have voted to unionize.  It was a long, difficult campaign for me, there were sleepless nights, there were uncomfortable encounters with some in management.  I would imagine it was long and difficult for those RNs who did not agree with us.  The campaign was was not always pretty.  This is a subject that is very personal to most people.  I believe with my entire heart and soul that we have made the right decision. I'm sure that there are many who feel just as deeply that we have not.  I must respect that.

Last year my church was going though a process of closing some parishes due to decreased numbers attending and financial concerns.  One Sunday, early in the process, our deacon took to the pulpit.  With a somber face he announced that our parish would be one of those that would be closing.  There was a long, long pause.  It was uncomfortably quiet.  Finally he took a deep breath and announced that our parish would not be closing but that others around us would, and he wanted us to feel what they would feel so that we could understand.

I cannot know what it feels like to the Backus No nurses, I can only imagine.

I can tell you this.  Lori and I sat side by side for 3 hours Wednesday, checking names.  It was the last 3 hours of the polling and most had voted already.  We had lots of time to talk, with each other and the board agents.  It was awkward at times, pleasant at times, even fun at times.  Before the count we shook hands. We sat side by side counting the votes, it was agonizing.  A run of no votes and then a run of yes votes, back and forth it went, each time the votes swung so did my emotions. When it was done we were ahead. Lori extended her hand and we shook again. I was elated, I still am elated, and yet my heart goes out to her.

Lori and the rest of the Backus No nurses believe in something different than I do, but I do not doubt the sincerity of their beliefs.  They want what I want, we just have different beliefs on what is the best path to get there.

Now, we go forward.  In time, all wounds heal.  We work for the betterment of our patients, our hospital, ourselves, our families, and our community.  Participation in the process is crucial.  ALL must be heard, ALL must be listened to, ALL must be respected.  We are many and we each have different talents, let us each use what has been given to us to achieve these goals.

Our leadership needs to cross all age groups, all floors, all units, all opinions.  THAT is what will make us strong.

I want to say thank you to the AFT organizing team, to my fellow members of the organizing committee, to my colleagues in the ED and across the hospital, to the physicians who have supported us, to the members of the security union, to all those from other departments who have encouraged us, to the wonderful locals of L+M, Windham, Rockville,Manchester, UCONN, Danbury, and other hospitals. We have been wearing buttons that say "Proud to be a Nurse" and that has never been so true.

I also want to thank my wife, Michelle, my rock, who puts up with so much from me.

To management I say, we are ready to work with you, in mutual respect, let us begin.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Let's get to work

This is a historic week for Backus Hospital. On Wednesday, RNs will decide whether or not to join together as a union! 
"RNs will decide"
I like the sound of that.

Over the past month the hospital has been trying to shift the focus by warning nurses of all of the responsibilities that come with having a voice. We understand that when we are partners with administration we will have to be responsible partners.  The reality is that the hospital wants us to focus on these things because they want to distract us from the very real issues.

We want to talk about how we have we been forced to use substandard supplies, including IVs.
Why have they taken peanut butter and Italian ice from our patients?
Why do they staff our units with so few people we run ourselves into the ground? 
Why are some of the most dedicated and skilled among us penalized for getting sick?

We tried over and over to address these issues each of us on our own but as individuals the administration just does not listen to us or respect us. 
If they did would we have had our certification and longevity bonuses taken away?
Would we have had our weekend and shift differentials decreased?
Would we have lost sick, vacation, wellness, and holidays? 
Would we have replaced our health insurance with a cheaper version? 
Would we have frozen our pension and replaced it with a 403B that is matched at the discretion of administration? 
Would we have instituted pay for performance in it's current form? 
These and more issues are what this vote is all about. When you clear away the smoke, the facts remain.

The hospital administration wants to make your vote between the administration or "the union" but it isn't. Hospital administration is not on the ballot and they don't get a vote. The election is between whether or not we want to join together as a group of nurses or whether we want to continue as individuals who happen to work in the same building.

Clear away the smoke, look at the facts, search your hearts. There's a lot of work needed at Backus, let's get started.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A hospital on the right path

When we first met Karen she was having one of her typical crazy days between her busy shift at work and home life.Some of her fellow nurses were starting to look into organizing a union at her hospital.Let's look in on her eight years later .....
Her oldest, Greg, has been accepted at UCONN for, you guessed it, nursing. Alex, now 11, is interested in two things, hockey and girls. James is still working at the aerospace firm but he went back to school and now does computer assisted drafting.And Karen? Karen returned to school also, part time, and now has a masters in nursing education. Last year she started working as a clinical instructor for the local community college. She still also works at the hospital, now in Same Day Surgery.How did they get here?They organized. After the election nurses realized they had a new voice, even before they had a contract. They could no longer be disciplined or dismissed without a fair hearing. Policies could not be changed without their input. Pay and benefits could not be reduced. The first contract took ten months to negotiate. They did not get everything they wanted, but they got a lot of it and they got it in writing. Future contacts brought more improvements. Now they know what their raises will be each year. They stopped having a revolving door of policies and istead policy changes were made jointly by management and the nurses based on how well they were working. They negotiated improved tuition reimbursement, which allowed Karen to return to school. The optional hospital match to the 403B was no longer optional, it was in the contract. The biggest change is the increased voice of the nurses. A committee of nurses and management now handle safe staffing issues, a committee with real power. Staffing is based on patient acuity and nurse experience. A bonus for Karen is the union scholarship that Greg is getting next year.
Shortly after the first contract was signed the CEO "retired". The new CEO promised better cooperation but little improved. He lasted a few years and then he "retired" also. The newest CEO seems to want to work together and seems to really respect not only the nurses but all staff. The hospital is on the right path again. Retention is up, staff is respected, pay and benefits are improved. The rest of the hospital has formed two other locals of the same union. Because hospital staff is now included in decisions, costs have decreased in many areas. The hospital now has an improved health insurance at a lower cost because of the expertise of union locals across the country. Karen and James still have the concerns of any couple with children but working together they are strong and find solutions, just as Karen and her fellow nurses have at the hospital.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Karen's duty

I guess you could say that nursing was in Karen's blood.  Her mother, Erin, was an RN at Windham hospital.  Karen volunteered there in high school and although she enjoyed it she decided to pursue a career in Information Technologies.She graduated with a degree in computer science from the University of Connecticut.  She and James were married, they had met in high school and had been together since then.  They settled into family life. James has a good job with a local aerospace firm, he is an aircraft assembler, he builds parts for planes and helicopters. The pay and benefits are good, but when contracts are finished there are often layoffs for a few months before the next contract gets rolling.Karen landed a good job in the computer field but 2 years later the company closed its office and moved overseas.  Karen looked for something more stable and nursing was starting to look better to her. She enrolled in the UCONN bridge program and struggled but finished as an RN.  A full one half of her class dropped out before graduation.  Her first son, Gregory, was born shortly after graduation.  She interviewed and was accepted at both Backus and Windham hospitals.  She chose Backus because her mom was still at Windham and she didn't want to be Erin Cory's little girl.  She settled into the life of an RN, working Med Surg.  She enjoyed it, the pay and benefits were good, which was important with Jim's on and off work. She studied hard and became Board Certified in Medical Surgical Nursing.  She told James that taking the test was like taking her nursing boards over again.  One added plus was that the certification gave her an extra bonus every year from the hospital in recognition of her experience, education, dedication, and hard work. Three years ago her second son, Alex, was born.  Life was good for her little family.
At about the same time her hospital underwent a change in upper management, the CEO retired and a new CEO took over.  There was no reason to expect any big changes. Her small community hospital was 114 years old, financially stable, and well respected by the community and the health care industry.
The new CEO had new ideas.  He hired and outside firm to come in and see if they could make Backus more profitable.  "Changes are coming to the health care industry and we need to be proactive".  The hospital was put on a "Pay for Performance" plan.  Changes to pay and benefits amounted to about a $6000/year decrease for Karen, more for others, and their insurance plan had been weakened.  Previously it had been free to be treated at Backus. Now it cost for everything.  Advanced certifications, once held in high regard, were dismissed. In addition, the quality of supplies had decreased.  Karen and others felt it was impacting patient care and also felt that upper management would not listen to them. In investigating other hospitals Karen found out that if she had taken the job offer at Windahm, a union hospital, she would be making $4/hour more than she is now. She also found out that at the union hospitals nurses support each other and work with management to improve the hospital. Some RNs had called one of the nurses at Windham and they started forming a union at Backus, so that they can decide what is important to them and speak with one voice.  Karen's hope is that by speaking with one voice the nurses will be able to bring their hospital back to where it once was and even better.  Karen sees this organizing as her duty, as another step in her vocation, to care for those who need her help