Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Love of Money...

Last night I attended the Gala at Mohegan Sun to benefit the new L+M Cancer Center that will open this fall.  I was there at the invitation of Harry Rodriguez, President of the L + M Health Care Workers and my good friend.
It was a opportunity to spend some social time with Harry, Lisa, and Stephanie, the three L+M presidents and some of their leadership and members, as well as our state federation president, Melodie, and our field rep Greg and our significant others.  They have all become my friends and mentors and have been instrumental in our development as a local.
It was also an opportunity for my wife and I to dress up, enjoy wonderful food, music and dancing.
It was a black tie event and I'm sure a large amount of money was raised for a great cause.
It's odd to travel outside your normal circle.  Bids on the auction were going in $100 increases.  A round of golf went for $2,000!  Now I'm sure nobody pushed off their mortgage payment to place a bid, but still, I have to admit, their was generosity.

I have a problem with money.
I believe the income gap is too large, that our elderly should not have to choose between food or medicine, and I know some people make lots of money at the expense of others or by questionable business practices.
But for me to think that all affluent people are that way is unfair, is a form of prejudice on my part, isn't it?
A funny thing happened on the way home.  We stopped at a McDonalds for a restroom break and as I sat in the car another car pulled up to me.  A young man motioned and I rolled down the window expecting him to ask directions.  Instead, he asked for gas money, saying he just got out of work, showing me his ID badge, and saying he misplaced his debit card, was low on gas and needed a gallon to get home.  My first thought was to wonder what the money was really for. I gave him a five and he thanked me and drove off.  I have no way of knowing if I did the right thing or not.
Some of the people giving at the Gala are good people giving to what they hope is a good cause, hoping that their donation will help cancer patients, but hospitals use donations for all sorts of things, don't they.

They whole night has me thinking.
Do I hold a prejudice against the privileged?
Did that young man appear as a lesson to me?
I'm told that one of the most often misquoted lines is that "Money is the route of all evil", when it is really, "The love of money is the route of all evil."
Lots to consider.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

All workers do amazing things

Several months ago I worked a day in our satellite ED, and on top of that, they talked me into coming in early.  So when I arrived at 5 am my hope was to ease into the day with the coffee I had picked up on the way and maybe catch up with the people I don't see all the time.
That lasted about 10 minutes, when a critically short of breath patient arrived.
At first it looked like we might need to intubated, but some quick action avoided that.
Long story short, after IV drips of normal saline, 3 different antibiotics, magnesium, potassium, some tylenol, solumedral, and multiple breathing treatments, the patient was transferred to the hospital CCU with pneumonia and doing better.

Two hours had elapsed in a blink.....and my coffee was cold.
The rest of the day was busy and went by quickly but uneventfully and I went home and mowed the lawn and made supper and I started thinking....
I helped save a patient's life, what an amazing thing.  I do something special for a living.

It is something special but I also started to think, I'm not alone in this am I.
This scene repeats itself with variations over and over for nurses, doctors and other health care professionals.
But, as amazing as all that is, we don't rush into burning buildings, we don't stand in harms way on foreign soil, we don't kiss our spouses goodbye and have them wonder if we'll come home safe after a traffic stop or a drug bust gone bad. We don't shingle roofs in the noon day sun or labor in hundred degree heat picking vegetables in the hope that our children can grow up as citizens in a country that offers greater hope. We don't descend into the earth to work in dirty mines. We don't work in third world factories that are fire hazards with the doors locking us in.

Yes, I did help save a life and that's no small feat, but there are many great feats performed day after day by workers everywhere and that is a testimony to Workers.
Every worker deserves to be treated with respect, to be provided safe working conditions, to make a living wage, to have access to affordable health care and quality education.
In my air conditioned building I sometimes do amazing things but so does the worker sweating in the field or the factory.
I deserve respect but so also do they.
We are brothers and sisters all.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Summertime, and the living is easy

Summertime and the living is easy.
So says the old song.

Another song comes to mind.
To everything, there is a season.
Based on a section from Ecclesiastes, it speaks to the need for balance in life.

My dad used to say it another way, 
Never make any one thing in your life so overwhelmingly important that you would be devistated if you lost it.  Have many interests.

I have many interests, but I struggle with the first part.
I've been told that I would be a terrible poker player because I wear my emotions on my face.
There's another reason.
I tend to go "all in."

Commitment and drive and persevarence are great attributes, but they become liabilities if out of balance or without boundries.
Helping others is wonderful, as long as we remember that each of us are free to accept help or not, and ultimately are responsible for our own choices.
Believing in a cause has accomplished great things thoughout history, but has caused great evil if we do not accept differrences of opinions.

For me, the beginning of summer marks a time to stop and examine if there is balance to my life, a season for everytning.  If not, then it's time to adjust.
Then and only then, will it be true, 
that the living is easy.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Union Update 6/21/13

Looking back I can see it's been a long time since I updated you on the Backus Federation of Nurses.
I'm going to try to be more frequent.

In March we had the Governor over to our office for cheese, crackers and discussion, followed up the next week with Senator Murphy coming to tour the hospital.  They've both been big supporters of the Backus nurses.  Both hospital CEO, Dave Whitehead, and I felt that the hospital tour and round table discussion that followed went extremely well.
The United Way breakfast near the end of the month honored Organized Labor's help.

In April I attended my first meeting at the Department of Health as part of the Quality of Care Advisory Committee.  I'm represent the AFL-CIO on the committee.  We had a followup conference call this week and I told them about the Backus High Reliability Organization initiative, the new Corrective Action Policy, and new discipline algorithm (coming soon) that shifts the emphasis from blame to fix.  I think HRO holds potential in bringing about a Just Culture as endorsed by the ANA and can lead to increased patient safety.  It's what we nurses have been advocating forever.  Of course, the devil is in the details and implementation.
Four of us attended the AFT Professional Issues Conference in Baltimore, making and reinforcing relationships with members from around the country and learning from some excellent seminars. I encourage all to consider attending this yearly conference.  Next April's conference will be either back in Baltimore or in Washington, DC.  We do have financial help available to defer some of the cost.  Contact me.
We also honored workers killed or injured on the job and those recently deceased at Worker's Memorial Day Ceremonies in Groton.

In May, VP Melisa Hunter and I cheered on our Nightingale members and also attended the AFT Connecticut convention.  I took a quick trip to Washington to welcome and tell the Backus organizing story to our newest members, the 28,000 RNs of the National Federation of Nurses who voted to join AFT.  They are from Ohio, Oregon, Montana, and Washington State.  AFT wanted them to hear from someone on the ground about the resources available at the Local, State, and National Federation level.  It was a great opportunity to form relationships with so many fine colleges.

The legislative session was carefully monitored by our political liaison, Carol Adams.  We successfully blocked a law that would have made it mandatory to get flu shots with no provision for health or religious exemptions. Our own Erin Cummings submitted testimony on this.
Attempts to strengthen the safe staffing law were blocked.  Our bill would NOT have had any mandated ratios but would have required regular reporting by the hospitals and public posting.  We'll try again.
We took a stand on the state budget to advocate for relief of "needy" hospitals.  You'll be glad to know that our consultant on this rated Backus as the most financially sound hospital in the state.

We have come to agreement with management on several issues, either through the grievance/arbitration process or the labor/management committee.  Some of them I cannot talk about because they involve an individual member, but we have agreed on a confusing but fairer vacation submission process, payment for those held over during the blizzard, and a new corrective action plan, among others.  We still have a few grievances working their way through the system and one pending arbitration.

We continue to monitor the affiliation with Hartford Hospital, the new Norwich surgical center, and the effects of the Affordable Care Act.

Six or seven of our delegates will be attending an AFT Connecticut Leadership Training Day in August.  I want to thank them for giving up their own valuable time to be able to better represent our members, and all the work they do.  A couple of us attended two years ago and found it very helpful.

Our sister Locals at L+M continue their opposition to their hospital's shell game with members.  The hospital has shifted work to LMPA, a division of L+M corporation, and now claims the union does not represent these workers.  The three Locals have filed unfair labor changes with the NLRP and are also proceeding with a traditional organizing drive in the unlikelihood that the labor board decides against them.

The lease on our office (which we assumed from AFT Connecticut) is almost up and our frugal treasurer, Donna Callicutt, has convinced us to look elsewhere.  We may have a new office by summer end, closer to the hospital, with good parking, much smaller, but less expensive.
Vacation reminder:
For the period Sunday prior to Thanksgiving-Saturday after New Years Day.....Submit July 1-15
For the period Sunday after New Years Day-Saturday before Memorial Day....
Submit July 1-31 for full weeks (24 hours or more)...,  submit August 1 for less than 24 hours.
This does not mean you cannot submit after these dates but it does decrease your chances of getting the requested time.

I want to remind you of the discount we have negotiated with Velenti Auto and the discounts through Union Plus, all available with your membership.  This morning I signed papers verifying membership for one of our nurses who is applying for a mortgage through Union Plus.

I also want to ask your help.  We are as strong as our member's involvement.
Budget time is coming up.  Donna needs a couple of people to help her for a brief assignment to formulate next year's budget.  This is the opportunity to influence how your dues are spent.  The assignment lasts only long enough to form the budget, so you're helping without being tied to it forever.
We could also use help with our newsletter.  I am keeping our able Vice President overly busy and she could use whatever help you could offer.

So that's what 5149 has been up to.  My new goal is to update you more often.  Please contact me or any delegate with questions or concerns.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Paul Mallon recently passed away and I and so, so many other people lost a good friend and a bright spot in our day.

Paul was a retired Connecticut State Trooper and I came to know him when he came to work at the hospital as a security officer.  A true gentleman and one of the funniest people and best story tellers I have ever met.
Whenever I saw him coming towards me I knew I was in for a treat.  I believe that at times I actually started laughing before he spoke, in anticipation.  He enjoyed being funny too, no, he delighted in it.

I'll share one of his many stories in his memory.

He was working out to Troop D, in Danielson, at the time.
He pulled over a car with Quebec plates in North Grovernerdale.
He walks to the window and asks for licence and registration.
Paul, looking at the licence, "OK Mr Leviscue..."
Driver, "Laveck"
Paul, "Hey, none of that! Now Mr. Leviscue..."
Driver, "Laveck."
Paul, "Hey, I said that's enough, one more time and I'll bring you in.  Now Mr Lesiscue..."
Driver, "Laveck."
Paul, "That's it.  Your coming with me."

Paul arrives at troop D, which at the time is manned by French Canadians, except for Paul.

Sargent Chartier, "Mallon, why'd you pull him in?"
Paul, "He was swearing at me in French."
Chartier, "What did he say?"
Paul, " I don't know, sounded like"laveck"."
Chartier, "let me see his licence."

Paul hands the licence to the Sargent.

L E V E S Q U E!

Then Paul would give you that "Mallon look".
Tilt his head to the side, roll his eyes to the heavens, sheepishly grin, and put his hands out palms up.

And then say, wait for it................"Ayup"

I'm betting there's a Dixie Donuts in Heaven and I'm betting Paul's sitting at the counter entertaining the angles.
We'll miss you Paul, put we'll never forget you.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

When you wish upon a Morningstar

My low back is bothering me this morning.  It went in spasms last night because I was laughing so hard at a roast to honor Jean Morningstar on the occasion of the retirement form UConn Health Center and University Health Professionals Local 3837.

I'm not entirely sure when I first met Jean. It was sometime within the last 3 years.
Maybe I don't remember because I was meeting so many new people that things were a blur, maybe it was because at the time I was so naive that I didn't realize "who" she was, that she was president of AFT Local 3837, represented 2800 members, and has the ear of such people as AFT president Randi Weingarten and Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy.
But maybe it's just because Jean misrepresented herself.
She never let on that she was "all that".  She has always treated me, a new, wet behind the ears, naive unionist, as an equal.  Never let on that she represented 6 times as many members as I, never flaunted her status on the state and national level. I only remember that she said she was proud of what we had accomplished at Backus and stood ready to assist however she could.

That's Jean.
To her, a local of 400 is as important as a local of 2800, because to her each member is important.

Every union leader that I have the privilege to call a friend teaches me something.  Jean does many things well.  I think her greatest legacy at UHP is the leadership team she has built as she leaves for her new role as AFT CT Second Vice President.

Some leaders lack the ability to do this, many fear doing it because they fear being replaced. Jean understands what the great leaders understand.
It is not the president or the leadership that is important, it is the individual members and the movement that matters.
Once you realize and accept this, you no longer fear mentoring someone to replace you, because the movement will always need you in a new and different role.

Jean is a big Disney fan and her accomplishments are proof that dreams can come true.  So, as she leaves UHP and heads to AFT Connecticut, she sets a new course and continues to make dreams come true, "Second star to the right, and straight on til morning"

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Blessed are the poor

"Blessed are the poor...."
So began one of the most beautiful sermons every given, from a mountain side in the Middle East, so many years ago.
There is no doubt that there exist today the privileged and the disenfranchised.  Sometimes this is the obvious difference between the 1% and the 99% and sometimes it is less obvious.
Sometimes it is in the two sets of rules that have become so common that they are the accepted norm.
One group punches a clock, the other doesn't.
One group gets preferred parking, the other doesn't.
One group gets disciplined for bullying in the workplace, the other group abuses authority.
One group gets jail time, the other a slap on the wrist.
One group parks the cars and the other goes inside.
It's not fair and the sermon on the mount addresses this unfairness.
      “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
      “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
      “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
      “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
      “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
      “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
      “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
     “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
      “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.

Nowhere in the sermon does it say to be passive, not to try to right wrong, not to fight the good fight.  Rather, I believe it is a message to those who do fight against injustice, a message of understanding, a recognition that it will not be easy, that we will get discouraged, but that in the end we will be rewarded.

Nearly 2000 years after these words were spoken by a homeless, Jewish carpenter, a country was born,  conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

A country that would become the hope of the world, a light on the hillside, so much so that the people of France would give us a monument to celebrate this ideal, placed in the most prominent point of entry to this country and on it are the words:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door

Many generations have struggled to achieve this dream, this equality, this respect.  
May we have the strength to continue this struggle, knowing that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be satisfied.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Is Nursing a Profession?

There was much talk in Nursing school about whether nursing was a "profession."  Much of it was centered around the fact that there were three avenues to becoming a Registered Nurse, a 3 year school of nursing, an Associate degree, or a Bachelors degree.  All three lead to the ability to sit for your boards, and everyone must take and pass the same boards.
Some felt that without a four year degree we couldn't consider nursing a "profession."
Ironically, I have often felt that the best nurses whom I ever had the pleasure of working beside were from the old three year nursing school system, which is now nonexistent or almost so.
This debate continues, with many pushing for all RNs  to have a Bachelors, Masters, or even Doctorate degree.
I support continuing higher education, but I don't think that alone can make one a good nurse.
I think part of the push for more advanced degrees and part of the debate over "professionalism" goes back to an inferiority complex in the general nursing population.
I have a friend who feels it starts in nursing school.  He says that in medical school, the students are called "doctor" from the start.  In comparison, there is a saying that "nurses eat their young." Many nurses will tell you how hard it was to get through school.  After a very rigorous process just to get into a nursing program, it is not unusual to graduate only half your class.  There is a feeling that instructors feel it is their duty to "weed out" those not acceptable to being a nurse.
When we start working we are pushed to "produce", to keep our rooms full of patients, to keep turning them over. Often there is one parking lot for doctors, one for administration, and another for everyone else, often "off campus" and accessible by shuttle bus.
We face a culture that looks at discipline as a means of improving care.
A culture that must change.
It's no wonder we feel inferior, it's no wander we eat our young, it's no wonder we talk about whether or not we are a "profession."

Nursing is a profession, and it is more than that.
It is a "vocation," which is something not all professions are, something special.

We deserve to be treated with respect and dignity because we are doing good work for our fellow man.
That dignity and respect has to start with us.  We need to treat each other in this way. We need to demand it from others. We need to end the debate and realize the truth.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

D Day

On June 6, 1944 they left the "relative" safely of their landing crafts and stormed the beach, running though the blood soaked bodies of their brothers in the waves.
And to where?
There was no place on the beach to take shelter.
It was up to them to build such a place.
Such bravery, such courage, such dedication, to their brothers on the beach and to mankind.

I do not know what drives men to such heroic acts.
Maybe it is the belief that the good of mankind must come before their own safety.
Whatever it is, it must be a very strong belief.

Across the years and across the miles this scene is repeated.
In the South Pacific, in Europe, in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and other wars.
It is repeated here at home too.
Every time a firefighter enters a burning building to search for people, every time a cop runs into a sky scraper hit by a suicide plane, every time a  rescue worker searches through a storm or earthquake zone, or rushes towards a marathon bomb site or a burning fertilizer plant, every time a teacher shields her students from bullets.

It is the best of mankind at the worst of times.

How can I honor the heroes of D Day and all the days when men and women, and sometimes children, are willing to put themselves in harms way for the betterment of others?
Maybe simply by following their example of love for my fellow man.

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."