News & Events

Registered nurses continue their patient advocacy in Washington

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
April 2009 Edition

MNA members in Washington with Congressman Ed Markey (above) and John Tierney (below).

Last month, over a dozen registered nurses from around Massachusetts traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate on behalf of their colleagues and their patients.

The nurses met with Congressmen John Tierney (D-Salem), Edward Markey (D-Malden), Stephen Lynch (D-Boston) and William Delahunt (D-Quincy) or their aides as well as Senator John Kerry’s (D-Boston) staff.

Advocating for the patient
With a debate looming on the Employee Free Choice Act—which would allow a fair process for nurses to organize into unions—a number of nurses spoke about how important it is to have a union. Judi Gross and Jeanine Burns, RNs from Gloucester, described the uneven playing field they experienced while organizing Northeast Health Systems and the vast improvement in working conditions and compensation since the successful organizing drive. Susan McCoy, an RN from Middleboro, described what it was like to be part of a 2003 organizing drive of support staff in Brockton—a drive that was successfully busted by management.

Unionization not only brings benefits to nurses, it also gives RNs protections to advocate vigorously for their patients. Stephanie Stevens explained how the union gave her a voice she would not have had without the protections and reassurances provided by her contract. Marcia Pennington discussed how she could more effectively advocate inside and outside of her hospital on behalf of her patients and for safe RN staffing because of her membership in the MNA.

Beth Piknick, president of the MNA and an RN at Cape Cod Hospital, brought up the NLRB’s Kentucky River decision that allows hospital management to classify charge nurses as “managers,” essentially forcing them  out of the union.

Piknick stressed how critical it is that nurses not lose their voice at work as a result of this NLRB decision and described how the MNA supports the RESPECT Act, proposed legislation that would dramatically limit which workers the National Labor Relations Act classifies as supervisors.

Looking ahead to single payer
With health care reform on the horizon, the MNA also wanted to make sure elected officials knew how the current, jumbled health insurance system adversely affects nurses’ ability to provide quality patient care.

Mary Jane McGowan, Eileen Agranat and Barbara Tiller, RNs from Quincy, Needham and Wrentham respectively, spoke about how their own facility, Tufts Medical Center, has started receiving lower reimbursements than other facilities for equivalent procedures. They also described instances where they saw patients’ health adversely affected by a lack of insurance or by being underinsured.

Donna Kelly-Williams, an RN from Arlington, discussed the devastating affects the state reform has had on her facility, Cambridge Hospital of the Cambridge Health Alliance, and asked that such negative consequences be avoided in any national reform. And Sandy Eaton, an RN from Quincy, spoke very effectively about the need for single-payer universal health insurance, similar to the current Medicare system, not only for its economic efficiency but for the improvement in health outcomes that would follow its implementation.

Bringing it around to safe staffing
While discussing health care reform the issue of quality and cost control came up often. Jenny Reynolds, an RN from Natick, tied this conversation into the MNA’s fight over safe staffing, explaining how the understaffing of nurses hurts not only the quality of patient care but also increases the price of that care.

Kris Kenyon, RN of Carver, discussed how budget constraints have led to the standard of four patients being replaced at times by five or six patients to a nurse, which makes providing a high level of care increasingly difficult. Kenyon volunteered to travel to D.C. to advocate for safe staffing because she felt “the D.C. trip meant the opportunity for me to continue my commitment to be an advocate for my patients in the best way that I know how and to empower the patients that I care for and their families through my voice.”

While in D.C. the nurses also attended a hearing on the recent Massachusetts experience with health care reform. Sandy Eaton provided testimony on this issue, explaining some of the adverse effects that health care reform in Massachusetts has had on community hospitals and health centers.