Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Our Teacher

Some people come into your life for only a brief period and yet have a profound impact.
I met Glenn last year when we were organizing our local.  Glenn is her middle name, she's really Elizabeth Glenn.  She came from Texas, a former teacher and an organizer for AFT national.

She and I spent many hours driving the highways and back roads of eastern Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, visiting and having conversations with nurses from throughout the hospital.

I learned a lot about the concerns of nurses in other departments and about how to have such conversations.
Whenever we left a home, Glenn would gently teach.  She would always use positive reinforcement, such as pointing out how my speaking up or remaining silent at a particular time helped the conversation.  She could have pointed out what I did wrong, but she didn't, she reinforced the positive, and I think I improved with time.

We had some great conversations, with nurses and with each other, and we had some great times.
Like the time we got stuck in the snow in a driveway in Sterling.  It was Glenn's first time driving in snow.  We visited an old mill in Rhode Island that sold antiques to call on one nurse.  We discovered small, quaint eateries across eastern Connecticut.  I explained the history and folklore of an area I have called home my whole life and in doing so realize how special it is.
She marvelled at the plentiful trees, the stone walls, and the fact that one town could have so many small villages with such unique names.

At some of our team meetings she would pull out the white board and give us an organizing lesson.

To two committee members she is known as Elizabeth, because they first met her as a patient, an experience Glenn holds close to her heart.

Glenn is back in Texas now, working for a local AFT affiliate, traveling much less.  It's better for her and her husband, and better for Texas.

She was in our lives for only a brief time, but she remains forever in our hearts.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Don't ask, don't tell

The other day Michelle and I went out to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.  We had a gift card from our Godchild from Christmas.  At one point in mid meal the waitress came table to table and introduced another waitress, saying that her shift was ending but that the new waitress would take good care of us.

I had never experienced this in a restaurant.  I thought - they're doing bedside report!

Bedside report is one of the new in things at work.  Basically, you do what the waitresses had done, give report to the oncoming nurse and introduce them to the patient.  We've done it inpatient for a while and recently started in the emergency department. 
I was against it but after my experience at the Cheesecake Factory I am now a believer.

Thursday, at a staff meeting, we were told we are going to trial "team triage".  Basically, a nurse and APRN or PA will be in triage and see patients there instead of in the area they use now (convenient care).  We tried it a few weeks ago but it lasted only about an hour. 

I'll spare you the details of why most of the staff thinks it will be a disaster.

One nurse at the meeting asked what the rational was for this and why wasn't staff who do the job included in the decision.  From the answer our boss gave I not sure she believes it will work but is committed to us trying.

I don't think team triage will work in the tiny work area we have, but then again, until my trip to the Cheesecake Factory I was against bedside report.

Why was I against beside report and why do I think team triage will be difficult?  Setting the merits or lack of merits aside for a moment, it is a continuation of a pattern of ideas that is dictated to us, the bedside nurses, by people who do not do our jobs.

When instituting a change, people involved in the change should be part of the discussion.  We have valid ideas and our buy in is needed for success.

Not involving staff is just poor leadership.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

We are stardust

On Ash Wednesday, as has become tradition over the years, our hospital Chaplin, Sister Rita, came down to the emergency room to distribute ashes. Rita is a dear friend and we always kid each other so I asked if she had enough room to work with (with my big bald head) and she responded that she didn't think she had enough ashes. Then she started laughing. It took her a while to calm down and she said "that was bad, maybe I could give up being bad for lent." She's a good soul.

"Remember that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return"

It's a reminder to keep our humility, something I can struggle with. The ashes also remind us to sacrifice, reminding us of a time when people would put on sackcloth and not wash during periods of repentance.

I also listened recently to an NPR show about stardust. It seems that there are clouds of dust moving through the universe and that they contain the building blocks of life. I do not claim to have understood all that they were saying, but it seems that what makes us up may have once been a part of these clouds and when we pass, what is left of us may eventually return to these clouds and form new life. Kind of a cosmic reincarnation.

I thought, cool!
"Remember that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return"
How awesome is that?
The entire universe interrelated!

Forming the world in seven days would be a feat, but doing it out of stardust, that would take one mega cool God!
Turns out, Joni Mitchell and Sister Rita are right,
We are golden.
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden."

Thursday, February 23, 2012


There's a good article by Kevin B. O'Reilly of about the fear of being punished leading to a continuation of underreporting of medical errors in hospitals.

Numerous studies have shown that when people are afraid of getting in trouble the will not tell on themselves or friends.  This leads to mistakes being repeated because often it is a system problem that could be improved.

For more than a decade, patient safety leaders have pushed for this culture to change but little progress has been seen.This article and other reports show that "most physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals working in hospitals believe their organizations are still more interested in punishing missteps and enforcing hierarchy than in encouraging open communication and using adverse-event reports to learn what's gone wrong."

Underreporting errors is bad for patient safety, and the underlying problem, fear of retribution, causes a multitude of other problems in hospitals and all businesses.

Say you have what you think is a good idea of a new way to do your job.  You go to the BOSS and share it.  What if the BOSS is put off by your suggestion?  Maybe he or she thinks you're trying to move up in the organization and feels threatened that you could replace them.  Maybe they go to their boss (the BIG BOSS) and tell them you are being disruptive or a problem.  The BIG BOSS tells them to do what they think is best.
And you're fired!

Your friends at this workplace hear the story and no one ever goes to the BOSS with improvement ideas again.  Every time the BIG BOSS visits and asks people how things are they all smile and say "great", but things aren't great and they never will be becasue of the culture of fear of retribution.

If you've never seen this happen then you and I have never worked in the same place.

This is a big problem in coporate America today.  It is a HUGE problem when patient's lives are at stake.

I cannot be a good nurse if I am afraid to advocate for my patients.

A part of every union contract is this line:
"No employee shall be disciplined or discharged without just cause"

For a nurse it means having the ability to speak up and to advocate for my patients without fear of retribution.

It is important for any worker, it is vital for a nurse.  Without this line in a contract a worker is an "at will" employee, able to be discharged for any reason the BOSS sees fit.  With it, the burden of proof is on the BOSS to show that there is a legitamite reason for any discipline or discharge, and the union retains the right to grieve any discipline, to defend the employee.

When patient's lives are at stake, this one line in a contract is the most important line, more important than any benifits, econonomics, or other issues.

Alone, it is reason enough for organizing, reason enough for all this hard work by so many people, reason enough to have endured the threats against our livelyhood when we stood up, stood together, and stood tall.

"Just cause" is the foundation upon which a union is built, patient's are kept safe, hospitals become better.  Maybe someday it will be law, available to all workers. 


Monday, February 20, 2012

It could be different

I have seen so many young, bright nurses come and go from Backus Hospital and the emergency department in particular. This week we lose another. I say lose because it is a loss, for me and the rest of the staff, for the patients and for the hospital.

Every time a nurse with experience leaves it is a loss.

Some turnover is inevitable. Many of our nurses are young, not tied to a house, or a school for their children, eager to try new things, etc. The come to Backus, spend a year or two going through orientation and getting needed experience and then find themselves being recruited by other hospitals.
Many would like to stay, but they have student loans to pay back, dreams to own a home, and families or plans for a family.

It wasn't always this way.
Backus was once competitive.

About 5 years ago a new CEO was hired and he brought in a consulting firm and the cuts started, as much as $8,000/year for some nurses. On top of that, policies were changed giving bedside nurses less say in their own practice.

If Backus was in financial trouble I guess some of  this could be understandable, but last year non profit Backus Hospital spent $11 million on a union busting law firm, gave the CEO a 28% salary increase, and still posted a profit of $24.9 million.
In fact, both our current and former CEO both recieve well over half a million dollars/year.

Last spring when union nurses met with Governor Malloy and he listened to our concerns over turnover.  He described Backus as a "starter hospital".

This week Kate leaves.
She came as a new nurse and I was given the task of orientating and precepting her. She became a trusted colleague and a preceptor herself. When I became involved in the formation of the union she followed me. Pregnant at the time, she was one of the 16 nurses who stepped forward and signed our first public petition declaring our intention. She risked a lot to do this, but she loves her patients enough that she had to.
She's shared a lot with all of us; good days, bad days, and the birth of 2 children.
She will be sorely missed by the staff, on both a professional and personal level.

The hospital, the patients, the community, and the staff are all negatively impacted when we lose bright, young, dedicated nurses, and it happens all the time.

And it is so unnecessary.

Friday, February 17, 2012

True Leadership

Many lessons can be learned by studying the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  For  a moment I'd like to look at him as a leader.
The following is an excerpt from an essay written by Dr James Allan Francis in 1926:

A child is born in an obscure village. He is brought up in another obscure village. He works in a carpenter shop until he is thirty, and then for three brief years is an itinerant preacher, proclaiming a message and living a life. He never writes a book. He never holds an office. He never raises an army. He never has a family of his own. He never owns a home. He never goes to college. He never travels two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He gathers a little group of friends about him and teaches them his way of life............... When we try to sum up his influence, all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned are absolutely picayune in their influence on mankind compared with that of this one solitary life…

essay by Dr James Allan Francis in “The Real Jesus and Other Sermons” © 1926 by the Judson Press of Philadelphia (pp 123-124 titled “Arise Sir Knight!”).  

Jesus led by example, he had no decree, he held no office, no title, no CEO position.  People were and are free to follow him or not.
Many others have led through dictatorship, positions of authority, or bullying. Few have led when those who followed them had complete freedom to follow or not. 
Those who lead as Jesus did are often reluctant to lead.  Power and fame are not a motivation to them.  They lead because they believe so strongly in a cause that they have no choice, they do what needs to be done.  They succeed because they understand those who follow them, they listen to them, they live with them, they walk in their shoes, they put the good of others ahead of themselves. 
I have been gifted to come to know a group of nurses who fit into this category.  Each has their own style, some loud, some quiet, some out front, and some in the background, but each a leader in the their own way.
It's an honor to know these true leaders.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How have Unions helped me?

The following is an except from an article in several national newspapers a few weeks ago about the current status of Union membership in the United States.

WASHINGTON -- Union membership grew slightly last year, giving labor leaders hope that a period of steep declines has finally bottomed out.
"The devastating losses from 2009 and 2010 have stopped and that's got to be good news for the labor movement," said John Schmitt, a senior economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.
Union membership has declined steadily from its peak of about a third of all workers in the 1950s, and about 20 percent in 1983. The losses have been especially steep in private industry with the loss of manufacturing jobs that traditionally are heavily unionized.
"It is telling that as our country begins to recover the jobs lost during the Great Recession, good union jobs are beginning to come back," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
As private sector union membership eroded, labor leaders turned increasingly toward workers in state and local governments, where there was often less resistance to organizing.
But future public sector growth in union membership is in doubt.
States and municipalities laid off tens of thousands of workers to balance their budgets after tax revenues plummeted because of the recession. Public sector unions also have faced growing hostility from GOP legislatures in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states that have tried to curb collective bargaining rights.
Among full-time wage and salary workers, the median weekly earnings of union members was $938, compared to $729 for nonunion workers.

Why are unions good for our country and society in general?  The following is a list of some of the things that we should be thankful to Unions for, many of them now law through union efforts:
  1. Weekends
  2. All Breaks at Work, including your Lunch Breaks
  3. Paid Vacation
  4. FMLA
  5. Sick Leave
  6. Social Security
  7. Minimum Wage
  8. Civil Rights Act/Title VII (Prohibits Employer Discrimination)
  9. 8-Hour Work Day
  10. Overtime Pay
  11. Child Labor Laws
  12. Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA)
  13. 40 Hour Work Week
  14. Worker's Compensation (Worker's Comp)
  15. Unemployment Insurance
  16. Pensions
  17. Workplace Safety Standards and Regulations
  18. Employer Health Care Insurance
  19. Collective Bargaining Rights for Employees
  20. Wrongful Termination Laws
  21. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
  22. Whistle blower Protection Laws
  23. Employee Polygraph Protect Act (Prohibits Employer from using a lie detector test on an employee)
  24. Veteran's Employment and Training Services (VETS)
  25. Compensation increases and Evaluations (Raises)
  26. Sexual Harassment Laws
  27. Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
  28. Holiday Pay
  29. Employer Dental, Life, and Vision Insurance
  30. Privacy Rights
  31. Pregnancy and Parental Leave
  32. Military Leave
  33. The Right to Strike
  34. Public Education for Children
  35. Equal Pay Acts of 1963 & 2011 (Requires employers pay men and women equally for the same amount of work)
  36. Laws Ending Sweatshops in the United States
How many of these things would employers have given to workers without workers advocating for them?  I'm not sure, but while a few progressive employers might institute some of these on their own, none of these things came about until workers joined together and spoke with one voice.

I am not against people putting their nose to the grindstone, investing their own time and sweat, their own money, and then enjoying the rewards of their own hard work, that's capitalism, that's good. 

What I am against is people making money off the the sweat, toil and hardship of another human being. 
That is why I am a union advocate.
The following lyrics are from a song which says it better than I, I Don't Want Your Millions Mister.

Now, I don't want your Rolls-Royce, Mister,
I don't want your pleasure yacht.
All I wants just food for my babies,
Give to me my old job back.

We worked to build this country, Mister,
While you enjoyed a life of ease.
You've stolen all that we built, Mister,
Now our children starve and freeze.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Twice Blessed

I witnessed an amazing event at church this morning. 
It was the time for the first of two collections.  The usher passing the basket made his way up the aisle.  The religious education children were sitting together and when he came to the area of the third grade children he paused, just 2 rows in front of me and across the aisle.  The young boy sitting on the end was searching through his pockets, presumably for the money his parents had given him to deposit in the basket.  The usher stood patiently, smile on his face, while the lad fanatically riffled though pocket after pocket, unable to come up with the change.  The boy looked up at the usher and the usher whispered, "that's OK" and moved on.

The boy's head went down, eyes looking at the floor.

Several seconds latter, a hand came across the aisle and deposited a quarter on the boy's bench.  The boy looked up and a young man in his thirties, not a relative of the boy, smiled.  The boy placed the quarter in the basket on the second collection with a smile on his face.

Later, at the sign of peace, when we turn and greet each other, a hand crossed the aisle again.  This time, the third grader reached out to shake his benefactor's hand.
It was an amazing tribute to the true love that church should be all about, beautiful to see played out just in front of me.

What's more beautiful is that the thirty something young man is my oldest son, Sean.

I have been blessed with 2 wonderful sons, Sean and Thomas.
They have both dealt with serious issues in their young lives.  They have had troubles and they have been in trouble.  Sean just recently started returning to church, had he not, he would not have been there for this young boy.
Just for today both my sons are healthy and well.  Their troubles have not ruined them, they have helped them to become the young men they are, loving and with hearts of gold. 

I could not be happier or more proud.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

For when I was hungry....

Last weekend, The Backus Federation of Nurses, together with the United Way, held a food drive at Stop and Shop in Norwich.
The people of Norwich were extremely generous.  We collected 1739 pounds of food!
Our brothers and sisters at L+M locals 5051, 5049, and 5123 held a drive the week before at Stop and Shop in Groton.
Combined, the 4 AFT Connecticut locals, working together and with the United Way, collected 2661 pounds of food and a large sum of cash!
It all goes to the Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor Food Center which provides food to over 14,000 individuals each month. The Center supplies free food to pantries, community meal sites, day care centers, shelters for the homeless, after-school programs, shelters for battered women and children, programs for the elderly, and many, many more.

We received the following letter from the Executive Director of St. Vincent de Paul Place pantry of Norwich:

We went to Gemma Moran  yesterday United Way Labor Food Center and picked up 1,739 pounds of food from your food drive. What an amazing food drive! We are so so grateful! Thank you so much for your efforts. Please send me an address that we can send a formal thank you.
Jillian Corbin

It was yet another example of all of us coming together for the good of all, labor unions, Stop + Shop, WICH, WCTY, and KOOL 101 radio, the wonderful and generous people of the communities, and the United Way, all working in cooperation.

We have a responsibility as members of a community to help our brothers and sisters.  We have an even higher level of responsibility as labor organizations and as health care workers.  The 4 AFT locals at Backus and L+M accept and endeavor to fulfill those responsibilities, assisted as always by the greater labor community of southeastern Connecticut, our AFT Connecticut leadership, and all the fine people and organizations listed above.

I'll close by saying thank you for the opportunity to help, in reality we gain as much or more from helping as those we assist.  I'd also like to thank those who do this work every day, at all the food distribution centers like the Gemma Moran United Way Labor Food Center and St. Vincent de Paul Place.
Here is a short clip from the Jim Reed of KOOL 101 with a few photos.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Negotiation Update 2/8/12

I don't know if management just doesn't understand or if they're stalling in an effort to break the union.

Remember that we gave them a complete contract proposal in late July and that they have only responded to about one third of it. 
We met last night after 2 weeks off.  They had given us some counter proposals and we responded to them.

We agreed to keep shift differential as it is contingent on an acceptable counter on our over time proposal.
We had proposed $8/hour weekend differential which would bring us in line with other area hospitals and with what we had prior to all the cuts a few years ago (20% at that time).  They told us last time that this was too far from the current $4.25/hour to even discuss it.  We countered last night with $6/hour.
We agreed to maintain charge nurse differential at $1.25 an hour with a clause that says they will never claim that relief charge nurses are supervisors and therefor ineligible for the union.
We came to agreement on Bereavement, Jury Duty, and Court Appearance.

They had countered  On-Call Status last time with a proposal that said the nurse must "report to the hospital as instructed within thirty minutes of the hospital's attempt to contact him or her.  Not complying with the requirements of this section of this article is just cause for termination and is not subject to the grievance and arbitration provisions of this agreement."
We countered with a proposal that said "the employee would be subject to discipline up to and including discharge except in a case of an unavoidable documented event or a documented emergency where the employee was medically unable to call. In the event that the employee on call lives beyond 30 minutes from the hospital he/she shall have the 30 minute call period adjusted to accommodate the employee's ability to arrive safely to the hospital."

We asked if they had any new counter proposals for us to consider, they did not.

They then took a 3 hour caucus to look at our counters. Since they had given us no new counter proposals, there was nothing for us to consider.

When they came back they gave us a new counter on weekend differential of 10%.
They held on their proposal on 30 minutes or termination.

After 7 months to consider our proposals, 2 weeks since the last negotiations and a 3 hour caucus.......
that's what they came back with.

What followed was a long discussion in which nurse after nurse spoke and tried to explain how their proposals were unworkable and would hurt hospital operations, nurse recruitment and retention and patient safety.

We took a short caucus and then gave them counters which they will consider and we will discuss on Thursday.

That brings me back to my original statement, do they not understand or are they stalling?

It probably doesn't matter.

The way it is now, without a contract, we have no voice.
The hospital lawyer is trying to negotiate a contract that changes this as little as possible.

We will get nothing without a fight.

I am willing to fight.

The negotiating team is willing to fight.

Are You?

That is what we must all ask ourselves.  Do we care about our hospital, our patients and our families enough to do what is needed to pressure them into a reasonable and fair contract?

I cannot answer this for you.

Attendance at negotiations does matter.  Wearing buttons and stickers does matter.  Attending rallies and informational picketing does matter. Community out reach does matter.  It all matters.  If we demonstrate strength we negotiate a contract that is good for us, the hospital and our patients.

In 1961 JFK challenged us to step up and act. He said "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.......ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."

I'm saying this.  Don't ask me or the committee what we will get for you, ask what you can do to help get it.  This is your union.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Walking in another's shoes

Sometimes, as much as we want to understand and help another person, we cannot unless we have walked in their shoes.  My dad always had a little wooden placard on his dresser in his bedroom.  It read,
"Never judge a man until you walk a mile in his moccasins".
Our actions teach our children more than our words.  That placard was backed up by how my dad lived. 

The twelve step programs understand this saying.  They are entirely based on the belief that only another person so affected can help, and in so doing help himself. 

I cannot understand what it's like to be homeless, alcoholic, or an addict.  Nor can I understand what it's like to be rich, or a women or mother, or a person of color.  I can do my best to understand but I should always remember that I cannot walk in their shoes.

Others cannot know what it's like to be me, understand my issues, my concerns, my fears, my hopes, unless they also share them.

One of the problems in society, and this includes work, is that people don't remember this concept. 

They think they understand what others are going through and they think others understand what they are going through. The only way we can hope to understand each other is to be in the same trenches with each other, to walk in each other's shoes.

I'll share with you a scene from West Wing.  Josh has cut himself in a fit of anger and has just come back from talking with a councilor about it.  Leo, a recovering alcoholic, tells him this story.

            Prayer of St Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A face made for radio

Thursday morning I made my radio debut on two Norwich stations, WICH, WCTY, and KOOL 101, New London.
My goal, to tell about the upcoming


This is the second joint food drive between the BACKUS FEDERATION of NURSES and the UNITED WAY, our first being last summer when we collected over 1300 pounds of food and over $200.  The United Way runs the GEMMA E. MORAN UNITED WAY LABOR FOOD CENTER which last year distributed more than 1.7 million pounds of food through more than 90 free food programs which in turn helped provide meals and snacks at no cost to those in need throughout New London County. The Food Center is a time-tested partnership between United Way, Labor and the entire community that works.

This drive is in response to an plea for help from a United Way food distribution partner, St. Vincent de Paul, to restock their food pantry. Our 3 AFT locals at L+M held a food drive last week at Stop and Shop in Groton and collected almost 1 ton of food!  This is something they do annually.

This will be our fourth community outreach project as a young union, continuing a tradition of unions in general and AFT in particular. Besides the food drive last summer, we also participated with the Lisbon Volunteer Fire Dept in the Lisbon Safety Day at Lisbon Landing in the fall.
A few weeks ago we held a blood pressure check at St Mary Star of the Sea Church, New London, where Father Bob Washabaugh is pastor.  We were real busy, it was extremely rewarding and we will be looking to do more of these.

I'd like to thank the local radio stations, Stop and Shop and the United Way for the opportunity to contribute to our community.  Special thanks to Laura Giannelli and Sharon Peccini of the United Way and Dan Durant of AFT CT for setting this up.

Please stop by, say hello, and help out as best you can on Saturday.  If you know of any other community outreach projects that we could get involved in let us know, we're here to help.

My radio debut went well, they said I had "a face made for radio".

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Don't piss off a pig

Sometimes a story is just too good for me to leave alone.  This is just too funny.

Those radical little puppets, the Muppets, are causing trouble.
Recently Fox News accused the new Muppet movie of "brainwashing children with anti-oil, anti-corporate propaganda"                         
Fox Business' Eric Bolling accused "The Muppets" of pushing an "anti-corporate message" and a liberal agenda. The film's villain is an evil oil magnate named Tex Richman.

Business anchor asks: "Are 'The Muppets' brainwashing our kids?"

Never accuse the Muppets from backing down from a fight.  When asked about the accusations at a news conference the Muppets hit back.

"They were concerned about us having some prejudice against oil companies - that, I can tell you, is categorically not true," Kermit told reporters. "Besides, if we had a problem with oil companies, why would we have spent the entire film driving around in a gas-guzzling Rolls-Royce?"

Miss Piggy added, "It's almost as laughable as accusing Fox News as, you know, being news."

"Boy, that's going to be all over the Internet!" Kermit quipped

It's not easy being green.