News & Events

Executive Director’s Column: Standing at the crossroads of change

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
October 2009 Edition

Executive Director’s Column
By Julie Pinkham

Julie Pinkham addressed members at the annual business meeting on Oct. 1. These are her remarks.

We are at the cross roads. The tsunami of change: No bargaining unit too large to withstand it or too small to avoid it.

Not since deregulation of health care in Massachusetts in the 90s—where nearly every hospital merged, affiliated or closed and MNA renegotiated literally every single contract—have I felt the monumental nature of the coming onslaught. Like then, we will once again see the question raised on the relative value of nurses. Couldn’t our work be reduced to simple tasks and be farmed out to unlicensed personnel?

As the single largest professional occupation in health care—with a high degree of public trust and a moral obligation under your license to put your patient before your job, make no mistake as a patient advocate— you are an obstacle in the intent of the health care industry to deliver care in the manner they see fit.

Whatever last vestige of the human component of health care there was and the respect of hospital administration to the unique patient-nurse relationship—those days are gone. It is business pure and simple and you are in the way of doing business.

The safe staffing legislation was never about patient care for the industry. It was—and is—about control. The fear of its passage is the fear of the Legislature codifying your existence at a time when, “alternat ive models of patient care” seem so much more inviting. As the discussion of health care takes the national stage, the tsunami gains its size awaiting a release across the country.

In 1995 I sat before a group of staff nurses for the MNA Cabinet of Labor applying to be the director of labor as they grappled with a sense of impending and dramatic change in this state. With them, we fought our way through deregulation and pushed back the second wave of an attempt to substitute nurses with unlicensed personnel. In 2000, I sat before a group of nurses of the Board of Directors and having narrowly lost the first bylaw vote for disaffiliation, again together, they took a leap of faith, hiring me as the executive director and bringing together the cabinet for labor and the board—putting staff nurses in control of the MNA. No longer would the tail wag the dog.

With the Board immediately reaffirming its desire to disaffiliate from the management- dominated ANA, together under siege and threat of lawsuits, we scheduled and moved the disaffiliation vote within 90 days and then set upon the rebuilding this organization to the MNA it is today. Now I stand with them as we move the next major initiative—as a we build a movement to withstand the next industry wave, again with its intent to assault the RN scope of practice to fracture the patient-nurse relationship and lessen the standards of care and standards of working conditions.

As before, MNA leaders have embraced change, not without its controversy, but with its driven goal to move the agenda of front-line nurses. Today history will be written and you will be the architects of that history. Will the nurses of this country have a powerful front-line RN-led union to speak with the same force and conviction that you have spoken with locally? Will the patients we advocate for have the benefit of that long-awaited voice, the one they trust—the one that the industry fears on the national stage? I say yes. Let us move the legacy of a progressive RN movement forward. Nurses across the country are waiting for you to lead. Let’s not keep them waiting.

As always, thank you for the pleasure of working with all of you and with the dedicated staff of the MNA.

Go to National Nurses United main page