Friday, January 25, 2013

Washington Trip

What do you hope to get out of this conference?, Harry asked as we sat having coffee. We had just arrived in Washington after getting up way too early and flying down from Connecticut.
I was hear to attend an AFT gathering of healthcare local presidents from across the country. We had flown down with our field rep, Greg Kotecki, and we were meeting up with Lisa D'Abrosca. Harry Rodriguez and Lisa are presidents at L+M hospital, about 15 miles south of my hospital.
We had gotten up way before dawn because we had 3 meetings on Capital Hill prior to the start of the conference.
The air was frigid, the wind strong, as we visited the different office buildings.
The meeting with our two senators and our congressman were closely related to much of the discussion at the conference.
Changes are coming to healthcare. The Affordable Care Act is fundamentally changing the way healthcare is delivered.
It is our duty, as healthcare professionals, to be a part of the process. If we sit on the sidelines, content to let others direct the changes, we will have failed in our mission.
Lesa Hanson, who worked with me in the ER and was active in the forming of our local, said once in an interview, "I used to think being a nurse meant being an advocate at the bedside. I now realize it also means being an advocate in the boardroom and the capital."
The conference has concluded and I return to my home, my wife, my family, and my work, but I return a different person than I left.
I felt like a sponge at the conference, soaking up knowledge, experience, hope, and energy, just from being around those who are advocating for their coworkers at their hospitals.
What do I hope to get out of this conference?
I hope to become a stronger advocate for my patients and my coworkers.
Isn't that the mission of any healthcare professional?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Who is my brother?

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Who is my brother?

Jesus answered this question by saying that whoever does the will of God is his brother or sister.

I remember asking our catholic chaplain, sister Rita, to come see a family in the ER who had lost a loved one.  I had asked them if they would like a priest and they informed me that they were not catholic but would like to see the chaplain.  Before going in I told Rita that they were of another faith and her response was that we are all God's children.
If we're all God's children then we must be brothers and sisters.
In Hawaii they have a tradition that they call everyone "cousin" because at one time all Hawaiians were related due to their isolation in the middle of the Pacific, and now, they realize, that if you go back far enough, we all have common ancestries.

I have lots of brothers and sisters.

I have my siblings and my cousins, my Kof C brothers, and my brothers and sisters of the labor movement. 
I have Dr King, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Cezar Chavez, Robert Kennedy, and the many nurses and other health care workers I know and have known, people I look to for inspiration and example of how to live a good life, dedicated to the betterment of others.

Two Brothers Statue - Resin
This is a Boy's Town statue, from an old Christmas card.
Then of course, there's the song.

I guess the answer to my question is that we are all brothers an sisters, all living together on this planet in space, all interdependent on each other.  We may not always agree, but we all must find a way to get along.  It starts by trying to understand others, respect others points of views, understand that the welfare of others is tied to the welfare of all.

It's not always easy, but it's worth it for our brothers and sisters.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Prime time vacations

I met with T Buss and Karen Knight on Friday about a few things. Among them was the process of requesting prime time summer vacations. Some people had been told that if they failed to submit in January for summertime vacation that they would not be able to submit at a later time. I have received emails about this.  If you ever have questions, please email, call or stop me and ask.   Those questions are invaluable to me.
Vacations have been a problem because our contract language does not fully agree with the intent of either side during negotiations.  Contract language is critically important but so too is intent.  By going back into both union and management notes that are taken during negotiations, intent can be clarified.  On vacations, the language states you may submit 4 weeks in advance, however the intent was for 4 weeks minimum and the notes clearly reflect this.  That is why we previously worked out a 6 month time frame for submitting. For prime time, the language states a submission period of January for summer and July for winter, however the intent is also clear from notes and the intent is consistent with management and union needs.
On Friday, we were able to agree on the intent and the practice going forward.

Submitting in January allows better planning and is encouraged. It also increases the chance that the nurse will get the weeks they request as it is first come/first served.
However, if someone wishes to submit for a summer vacation after January, they will be able to do so with the same time guidelines as any non prime time vacation. As always, vacations are granted as patient care needs allow. T and Karen will contact the Clinical Coordinators to make sure they understand our agreement. Please be patient with them on this.

Vacations are a good example of how we can work together with management and come to solutions that are win-win. 
You may ask, "What about partial week vacation, I'm still being told I can't submit until 4 weeks prior?"
When we came to our agreement on the 6 month time frame for vacation submittals, we could not agree if the intent also applied to partial week vacations.  We filed a grievance claiming that it did.  The grievance process contains 3 steps.  At each step the employee, or union delegate, meets with members of management, and together they try to reach agreement.  If agreement cannot be reached, the union has the right to bring the grievance to arbitration. 
This is what happened with partial week vacations. 
In arbitration, an independent arbitrator that is acceptable to both sides, hears arguments on both sides and renders a decision.  This process is agreed to in the contract and the decision is final.
Our arbitration hearing on partial week vacations is expected to be held in February.

So, to recap, on disagreements with interpretation of the contract or any other issues dealing with wages, benefits, working conditions, or discipline, we sit with management, either in Labor/Management Committee, through the grievance process, or in a time sensitive case such as prime time vacation, one on one with Management and Union leadership, and try to find agreement, and if we cannot, an arbitrator has the final word.

That was a long explanation, but it's important for you to understand.
This Wednesday through Friday I will be in Washington for meetings with the other AFT Healthcare Local presidents from around the country, discussing issues important to all of us.  I'm travelling down with two of the L+M local presidents, Harry Rodriquez of the Healthcare Workers and Lisa D'Abrosca of the RNs.  Also going with us is Greg Kotecki, our field rep.  Stephanie Johnson, president of the L+M LPN/Techs is unable to make the trip so we will represent her people as well.
Harry, Lisa, Greg and I will go down early on Wednesday because we have three meetings with Representative Joe Courtney, Senator Chris Murphy and a top aide to Senator Dick Blumenthal, prior to the start of our conference. 
There are many changes happening in health care.  We can see them all around us, from the affiliation with Hartford to the Affordable Care Act.  We can either be swept up in those changes or be involved in shaping them.  Our choice is clear, we need to be involved. 
Who knows what works better than us, those working at the bedside. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Getting my butt kicked by a virus

OK, virus, you win.
There is so much sickness around here right now, the flu, respiratory infections, stomach bug.  The patients have it, the staff has it.
I've come down with a head cold, small potatoes compared to bronchitis, pneumonia, or the flu, but what makes it real bad is that's me that's sick.
We joke about the "man cold", that when a guy gets sick it's so much more dramatic than a women being sick, but a "me cold" is 10 times worse!
This thing is kicking my butt.
Forget vampires, werewolves, or zombies, it's the viruses we need to worry about.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


The Flu has hit us hard!
The volume of patients the last few weeks has been unrelenting.  Add the GI bug that always seems to be going around, but is on an uptake now, and the usual amount of chest pains, headaches, abdominal pains and injuries, and I'm one tired nurse at the end of a shift.
I'm fighting a head cold myself and many of the staff have had the GI bug or  some form of a respiratory "virus".  The staff believes that if you refuse to call it the "Flu" it will not be, but then again, we are the same people who won't say the work "q#iet" out load for fear of bad luck.
The community has been warned that the Flu is in high gear.  Children cannot visit in the hospital and there are masks at the doors.
Some people come in and say, "I think I have the flu."
Well if you don't, you probably will by the time you leave the ER, because half the people in the waiting room have it!
One of our doctors was going through so many tissues the other day that patients wanted to know if there was anything they could do for him.
The news says stay home, rest, drink lots of fluid.
All great ideas, but most of our patients don't have a nanny, a maid, and a hedge fund,
they just have the Flu!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Gun Control

When you get right down to it, I think we all believe in some form of gun control.  I mean, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a lot of people who support their next door neighbor's right to own a tank or possess a nuclear device.  The real question is what level of control.

Our country has faced so many tragedies and just recently, Sandy Hook Elementary School, the 2 firemen in New York state, and right in Norwich, CT, an officer was shot several times this week.  The ongoing gun violence in our cities is a whole other tragedy.

Let me say right off the start, I don't have the answer.
Some say take all the guns away, some say ban assault weapons, some say strengthen the permit process at gun shows, some say arm the teachers and put armed guards at every school. Some point to the lack of mental health care or the violence in video games.

I don't have the answers but we are the country that put a man on the moon, I think if we come together we should be able to find a way to protect the second amendment and at the same time protect our 6 year olds.

We need an honest dialogue on this issue and a willingness to compromise.

Compromise has become a lost art, and look where it has let us, to a polarized society that elects extremist to congress who would rather go down with a sinking ship than work together and sail that ship, compromising on the direction it should go. 
If we work together, if we compromise, both sides get something and neither side gets everything.
There was a time when that was the American Way.

Let us strive to understand the other side while holding to our own beliefs, let us strive to find compromise that protects our rights and our children, let the recent tragedies be a wake up call for us to elect and demand leaders who put the Many ahead of the Few. 
We have risen to this before and we can rise to it again.

If we fail, we fail our children.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Local 5149 this week

You might think the end of the year would be a quiet time for the Local.  I thought it would be.  Several members of management took extended weekends, what with the holidays being on Tuesdays and our state inspection just behind us. I thought things would be quiet.   I was wrong.
Before I go on, let me say a thing or two about the state inspection. 
I know the inspections can be a pain but think about it, if the state wasn't keeping a good eye on the hospitals what would happen?  And, we did well, thanks in a large part to the working people from all departments who are out there day and night getting it done.
Yeah us!

Like I said, it was a busy week.  Seems the year ended with the issuing of multiple warnings to nurses, many of them for attendance.  That means the year started for us with the issuing of multiple grievances.
Let me review grievances.  If there is a violation of the contract, or someone is disciplined unfairly, or other abnormalities occur, we have the right to grieve it. 
One important point.
We have only 10 days to file!
So, if you are wondering if something should be grieved, speak to a delegate or officer right away and see what they say.
There are 3 steps in the grievance process.  At each step we sit and discuss the issue with the Clinical Coordinator, then the VP of patient care services, and finally the VP of HR.  Hopefully we come to an agreement at one of these points and the grievance is thus settled, but if we don't, we can file for arbitration and one of our field reps represents our case before an independent judge, who has the final word.
So remember, we have only 10 days to file and also remember to ask for union representation if you are called into a meeting when questions are asked of you that could possibly lead to discipline, it's your right.
We also helped one of our members who had a positive T Spot test (TB).  Luckily she does not have active TB but will need treatment.  The hospital is unable to find a history of her being exposed so they claim she is not eligible for Workers Comp.  We helped her to file the forms needed to claim Workers Comp as an individual and are making our law firm available to her.  They will review the case and represent her at no charge, another union benefit.  She's upset by the whole thing but doing well.

Applications for the 2013 AFT Connecticut Scholarship program are now available. The deadline for submission is April 1, 2013. If you email me at I will send you the forms.

The last class of Resident Nurses will be receiving dues rebate checks in about 2 weeks.  Our intent was to not collect dues from them until their probation is over because they do not have full union protection till then, but in our "growing pains" we started collecting on day one.  The right thing to do is to reimburse them and that's what we're doing.

We have a tentative date of March 9 for a food drive to benefit the Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor Food Center.  It will be at the Norwich Stop and Shop, probably early morning to mid afternoon.  We had 2 such drives last year and we filled the United Way truck with donated food.  This year our the members of SPFPA Local 692 (our security officers and support staff union) will join us.  Please consider donating an hour or two.  Families are both welcome and encouraged.

Finally, our AFT brothers and sisters at Sandy Hook Elementary School have been reunited in the classroom with their students.  As we pray for their recovery we must also work to curb violence in any school and any workplace.  AFT at the state and national level has been active in this regard and now will work even harder at it. Many of us have faced violence on the job.  It is NOT acceptable and there are things that we can do.  If you feel you'd like to help in this regard, please contact me.

Here's hoping for a q**** week.