Saturday, January 31, 2015

Is it too much to ask for a little Respect here?

Not feeling the love from management this week.
No one big thing, just a lot of little ones that add up to a whole lot of lack of respect.

Why is it so hard for some managers to understand.
Certain professions, nursing being one of them, inherently look at their role as more than a job, they see it as a calling.
If managers would only understand this, their lives would be so much easier.
It's not about pay, or benefits. It's about the ability to be able to properly care for our patients and be treated with respect.
If they would just give nurses the time, resources, independence, and respect they desire, the manager's job would be done.
Instead, they often seem intent on creating an punitive atmosphere, where nurses are always listening for footsteps coming up behind them to tell them they are too slow, or their charting isn't perfect, or this or this or this.

I don't get it.
Management isn't rocket science.  You treat people with respect, you support them, you are clear on your expectations, and the majority of people will respond in a positive manner.

One of the reasons I like to get away to union conventions is because when I'm there, I'm treated with so much respect.  It's a refreshing change from working at the hospital.

Last May I wrote a blog about this.

In it I wrote:
Candice Owley, an AFT VP,  stopped me in the hall in Baltimore the other day. She wanted to introduce me to the lunchtime speaker. She said the speaker and I were both story tellers and then said some nice things about my blog. When Candice introduced the speaker to the gathering, she dropped my name into the intro, retelling our conversation in the hall.  She didn't have to do that, but she did, and it was a great sign of respect.

It was a week of respect, and that is what drives our movement, the belief that we should live in a world where all workers are respected, where they receive a living wage, not dependent on their gender, free of discrimination, in a safe work environment, without child labor, with quality public education, and with the ability to retire in dignity.

If management could understand this concept, their lives and certainly our lives, would be so much better.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Getting ESEA back on track

Did you ever have a great idea and it started out going well and somewhere it took a wrong turn and ended up somewhere you didn't want to be?
In 1965. Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
It's idea was to provide every child an education that gave them a fair chance, and every school the resources to be able to provide that.
It was a good idea.

It has been revised and tinkered with since then, sometimes to the good and other times.....
Now it is time to reauthorize the act.  
Pretty much everyone in education is in favor of reauthorization.
This is an opportunity to move it back to it's original goal.
High stake testing has become the norm.
Testing is helpful if it ensures that children say, in Alabama, are getting a quality education, just like children in New York.
It is not helpful, if so much time is spent teaching students how to do well on the test, that valuable time is lost teaching.
It is not helpful if schools in poorer communities, or with a high ratio of English as a Second Language Learners (ESL), or a high number of students with disabilities, do poorly on the standardized tests through no fault of their own.
In some cases these schools may even be closed due to this!
Obviously, this was not the original indent of the act.

My education friends understand all this.
They live this.

It's time for us "non-education" people to help out.  They're our students too.
Below is a short article from AFT and a link.
Would you please take a look and help out by signing the petition?
Let's get back on track.

Getting ESEA back to its promise

Reporter magazineThis year, all signs point to Congress reauthorizing our keystone education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the ESEA in 1965, it was a centerpiece of the War on Poverty. The law was designed to ensure that every school got the resources to teach students, particularly in neighborhoods that are not wealthy. But the law’s core principles of equity and opportunity have been overwhelmed since the last major overhaul (known as No Child Left Behind), and it has taken on a devastating obsession with high-stakes testing.
"Over the last 13 years, we've seen the ever-more corrosive effects of high-stakes testing," AFT President Randi Weingarten observed in a recentcolumn . "No Child Left Behind has failed to accomplish its goals, and its only real legacy is a standardized testing regime that’s squeezing the joy of learning from our schools." To craft the next version of ESEA, she adds,"Let's start here: All students deserve a high-quality public education, and teachers need the resources and support that will allow them to teach."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Lessons from the Flu

Last Sunday, after taking care of yet another Flu patient, I made the remark that it would be a miracle if I didn't get it too.
I should have kept my mouth shut.  Better yet, I should have covered it with a mask.
By Tuesday morning I knew something was wrong.  I had the kind of aches you should only get when you take up a new sport.  
By Wednesday, I was visiting the doctor, and starting on Tamiflu.
On Wednesday I commented that at least I didn't have a cough.
By Thursday I had that non-productive cough that doesn't do any good, it just wears you out and hurts you head and ribs every time you hack.

Before you ask, yes, I did get the Flu shot, and I still recommend it.
I also recommend the use of masks for staff during the Flu season because the Flu shot is not perfect.

I am the worst patient, but it's not my fault.  Nurses make notoriously poor patients and men are wimps. (We have a definition for a guy who comes in with a cold, who acts like he's on his last leg, with the family doating on him, we call it a "man cold.")
So, put those two factors together and I'm in that sub class of the worst of the worst patients.

It's not entirely my fault, I don't get a lot of practice (thank God)
The last time I was out sick was before Obama was president and we all know that's been a long time because "I won 'em both."

It's ironic that I can stand up to bosses, and administrators, and lawyers and yet it's a little virus so small that you can't see it with the eye, that takes me to my knees.
It's a lesson in humility.

There's also another lesson.
I've been out of commission all week and you know what happened?
Not all that much.
The world kept spinning, the patient 's at work were taken care of, my union duties were handled by others.

You see, it takes a team, and when one member goes down, another steps in.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Big Nursing question

"John, I'm going to have you do the code in room 7"
"How long?"
"5 minutes."

Many days in the ER are the same old same old, with the addition of being hassled about how long it took to do something and how your charting isn't perfect.
It gets old.

Then, once in a while, it's different.
You help save a life.
You guide a family though death.
You help a fellow nurse though a rough day.

"What do we know?"
"62 year old male from the casino, CPR in progress, shocked twice."

The medic and EMT roll though the door.
"62 year old male, witnessed arrest, V tach, shocked x3, intubated, Amioderone 300mg, got a pulse as we were backing up, down time 20  minutes.
IO right leg, 18 in the left AC, history MI with 3 stents, family on the way."

Short and to the point.

(He died, had no pulse, they got him back with electricity and drugs, he has a breathing tube and IV access, family will be here soon.)

The next 30 minutes are filled with a team of people doing EKGs, chest Xray, and blood work.
Orders are given, repeated back, and medications administered.
We lose the pulse, we get it back, we lose it, we get it back.
We stabilize, 
Life Star arrives, priest and family get 2 minutes, and the patient leaves.  
He'll be at the big city hospital in 12 minutes.

The "code team" was assembled in 5 minutes.
As primary nurse, I had to be the conductor of the orchestra.
The ultimate responsibility fell on the doctor and I, working together.

Driving home, I think of a question I was asked recently.
"Will you miss it if you leave?"

I answered then that I wouldn't miss the BS.

But I'll miss the days when I make a difference.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Much will be written about Martin Luther King in the next few days, about how great a man he was, about how he both lived his life and gave his life so that America could be a better place, about his unbelievable speeches and his ability to move others to action.

All true, all important.

Then I think of where we are today.

So much in the news about young black men being gunned down, of prison over crowding and the high percentage of the inmates being people of color. 

It makes you wonder, are we making progress?

A friend of mine and I were talking recently about going somewhere in southeastern Connecticut.  
She made a remark that she couldn't drive in a certain town after dark without being pulled over because she is black.
I was stunned.
There is no way I can understand this.  It falls under the category of "you have to experience some things for yourself to truly understand them." Being a white male, there is no way I can experience this.

I wanted to lash out and fight for my friend, but fight whom?  I was ashamed to be white.
Again, I wondered if we had made progress.

Then I thought about the matter of fact nature of my friend's statement.  She doesn't lay awake thinking about it. 
My reaction was much stronger than her's, I think because it surprised and disappointed me, but also because she is my good friend.
Had she been white, and bullied or discriminated against for another reason, I would have reacted much the same.

I came to know her because she is a respected leader in the labor movement, I grew to love her because she is so genuine, so loving, so honest, so much fun to be with. 
I go to her for advise because I can trust she will tell me the truth, not what I want to hear, and she will do it in an upfront but not unkind way.
She asks nothing for herself, no personal gain.  She has no hidden agenda. She cares about me for being me.
She and her sons have invited my wife and I into their lives. The are special to us.

We still have a long way to go to eliminate bigotry and discrimination.
But Dr King dreamed of a nation where his children would be judged by the content of their character.
My friend and I have come to know the content of each other's character.
That is what matters to us.
That is what is special to us.
That is what Dr King dreamed of.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why are we here?

Why are we here?

Do we have a purpose in life, a reason we were born?

It is a question that has been asked is many different ways for millennium.
It's the question I posed to my dad when I was in my early 20s.

When will I know what it is that I'm supposed to do with my life? I asked my dad.
He answered that we don't, we just do the best we can each day.
Over the years I have toyed with the question, did he really feel that way (and was he right) or did he just tell me what I was ready to hear at the time?
When he answered this way, it took an enormous amount of self imposed pressure off me, because I felt I should know, and he said it was OK not to know.

Looking back, I realize that soon after this, I had children and keep busy with raising them, and this was a purpose.
In my 30s I was exposed to the world of nursing, though a layoff from work in the defense industry and a retraining program.  I became a Nursing Assistant and eventually a Registered Nurse and found another purpose.  Nursing is something that I never considered before, and I would not have been ready for.  I needed certain life experiences to be ready, and when I was, it seems like I was guided to discover it.
Then, in my early 50s, I was introduced to the Labor Movement.

I look back and realize that I needed all my life experiences to be ready for this too.
My first associates degree in Business, my jobs in management and as a worker, my jobs in factories, lumberyards, a research egg processing plant, and as an aircraft assembler.  I needed to see the possibility of being a good manager and the reality of working under so many poor ones. I needed to feel the sting of multiple layoffs.  I needed to see the possibility of retraining programs and to return to school later in life and everything nursing has brought me to experience.  I needed to have the challenges and rewards of raising children.

I needed to become ready for nursing.
I needed to become ready for a role in the Labor movement.

So where do I stand on my dad's answer to my question?
I change my mind all the time but I don't think I'm alone.

In the movie Forset Gump, Forest wrestles with the same question.
Lt Dan believes we all have a destiny, and feels cheated out of his.
Forest's Mama, believes that "life is like a box of chocolates, we never know what we're going to get."

Forest asks Mama the same question I asked my dad.
Forrest Gump: What's my destiny, Mama?
Mrs. Gump: You're gonna have to figure that out for yourself.

Towards the end of the movie Forest gives us his understanding of the question, at least at that point in his life.
As for me?
I guess I'm still with Forest, not entirely sure.  Maybe that's OK.
Let's listen.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Backus and L+M Locals standing up

I spent yesterday in Rocky Hill sitting next to Deb Chieppa, an IV specialty nurse and a member of my local.
She had been fired after a situation where she attempted but was unsuccessful in starting an IV on a patient.
A second IV nurse was called, and was successful on her second attempt.

Afterwards, the doctor complained that Deb should have tried again and the Hospital claimed the policy required her to attempt twice.
She was terminated for misconduct.

Deb felt, with her professional judgement based on 38 years of RN experience (23 at Backus in the IV therapy department), that further attempts by her would only harm the patient, and that perhaps a second nurse, with a fresh set of eyes, might have better luck.

It's similar to baseball.
Every team has an Ace pitcher, but some days, it's better to pull that pitcher and bring in a reliever to finish the game.
Often, a nurse will attempt only once, or not at all, if they see little chance of success.
It's really the right thing to do and the practice in real life.

We filed a grievance but could not come to an agreement, so an independent arbitrator (or judge) heard both sides and will make a decision.
We should have a decision by mid March.
That decision could be to uphold the hospital's action, to reinstate Deb with back pay and benefits, or some compromise in the middle.
How it turns out is important, but in some ways, what happened yesterday was just as important.

For the first time in the 120 year history of the hospital, an employee disagreed with management, we couldn't come to an agreement, but management didn't have the last word.

At the same time, the corporation to the south of Backus, L+M, has done it again!

You may recall they were placed on trial by the U S Government for violations of Labor Law in connection with the illegal lockout of there own employees last winter.
They were subsequently found guilty and the employees received back pay and benefits, but only after the hospital spend hundreds of thousands on lawyers and loss of public goodwill.

This time, another subsidiary, LMMG, violated the law by denying it's employees the right to free speech in the workplace as it pertained to speaking about a union, during an organizing campaign.
This repeated, blatant disregard for the law shocks me.
The trial will be in March.

They are a corporation chartered to do good for the community and they repeatedly break the law and deny their employees basic rights guaranteed under US and state law and contained in our constitution!

The only explanation is that they feel they are above the law.

They are not, and thank God the AFT locals of L+M are there to stand up to them and bring it to the attention of federal prosecutors.

These two situations are connected by this common thread.
They would not have occurred without the employees standing together, speaking with one voice, forming a union, and having a contract.

The individual voice speaking out is important, but when we speak out together, we have strength.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Professor Noel

"Not gonna lie, the highlight of 2014 for me was becoming a tenured associate professor. After 5 years post graduate education and 6 years working my butt off to prove I deserved the job- I get to keep doing what I love.
 — Noel Comolli McClure"

That was a year end FB post my one of my cousins, which gives me the opportunity to discuss the whole issue of tenure as it applies to higher education.

Noel spent 22 years in school (Kindergarten through Grad school), for the opportunity to teach!
She then spent 6 years teaching a full course load, doing research, serving on university committees, doing community service and serving on committees outside the university, and becoming published. (Noel is member of the American Institute for Chemical Engineers and the Society for Biomaterials) 

Failure to achieve any of these requirements would have made her ineligible for tenure.  
She also had to pass evaluations by the more senior professors on staff.

Only after passing all of this did she achieve tenure.

22 years of school
6 years of teaching
28 years of preparation.
All so that she gets what?

"I get to keep doing what I love."

You see, for professors, failure to achieve tenure means termination.
Not just a chance to continue working nontenured, but termination.

Let me ask for a show of hands.
How many out there willing to go through all this work, all these years, and possibly be terminated?
Then what?

Business school's looking better isn't it?

Lucky for us, educators love to teach.
They are willing to put themselves through what it takes.
Thank God they are.

Now Noel can continue to do what she loves, not guaranteed for life, but with the protection that if some administrator or some politician wants her fired, they have to show a just reason.

Tenure will allow her to teach.
It will allow her to speak freely on troubling issues and challenge those in power on curriculum, quality, and university ethics.
If she sees one group being discriminated against or another being granted "favors" she can speak out.
You see, the first amendment guarantees freedom of speech, but it does not guarantee job protection if you speak out.

"Just cause" does that.
In the private sector, it comes with a union contract.
Tenure is what they call "just cause" in education.

Congratulations Noel, to you and all the tenured professors, and thank you for your dedication to the service of education.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A look ahead to 2015

Yesterday, I took a look back.
Today, I look ahead.

I have no crystal ball, I cannot predict the future, but I can tell you my hopes, my dreams.

I hope to write more, and eat less, walk more, and worry less.
(OK, not the first year for these)

I hope we can move towards a nation that is more tolerant of each other, more agreeable to finding common ground. A nation where we truly live by the words in our Declaration,
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal."

As a Union, I hope the Backus Federation of Nurses will continue to increase member involvement in the running of the union, our voice within the hospital, and our connection to the community.
We have negotiations starting soon on a new contract.  I hope for a successful session with strong member involvement.
I believe it is a chance to build our union.

In fact, building the movement is the theme of my hopes for this year.

In the September SVFT newsletter, Jan Hochadel said,
"And we have to continue to build a labor movement that is worth believing in."
Jan and I have had long conversations about this.

We need a movement that is above reproach, as those who oppose us delight in pointing out our faults as the norm and not the exception.
We need to be transparent in all our actions.
We need to remember that as leaders, we serve our members.
We need to engage members where they are, because our numbers are our strength.
We need to involve the community, because community is the new density.
We need to continue to advocate for worker's issues, such as sick leave, a living wage, and affordable, accessible healthcare for all.
We need to organize, organize, organize, because others deserve a voice.
We need to stand up to the Koch Brothers and the Walmarts of this world, because those who put profits before patients, students, or the community must never be allowed to win.

How do we do all this?
That's the big question isn't it?

We have to be able to see the big picture, but we also have to take care of the everyday details or we'll never get there.
As they say, we have to "plan our work and work our plan."

Everyday we need to ask ourselves, "what have I done for the movement today?"

Those are my hopes for the coming year.
I've been called a dreamer before, it doesn't bother me. (I've been called worse)
Are they possible?
I believe they are.
I know I couldn't live with myself if I didn't try.
I hope you feel the same.