From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
November/December 2009 Edition
Donna Kelly-Williams, RN, a resident of Arlington and a staff nurse at Cambridge Health Alliance, has been elected president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
Kelly-Williams, who is the 38th president in the MNA’s 106-year history, will serve a two- year term of office. She brings with her more than 30 years experience in nursing and more than 20 years of service to the MNA. She holds an associate’s degree in nursing from Lassel College, a bachelor’s degree in labor studies from UMass Boston, and a master’s degree in health care management. She also earned a certificate from the internationally renowned Harvard Law School Trade Union program and is board certified in pediatric nursing.
“I am so grateful to have been elected to lead this great organization of nurses and to work with our membership to continue our century-long effort to improve the profession of nursing, and the quality and safety of care we deliver to patients each and every day,” said Kelly-Williams. “It is such a privilege and an honor to be a registered nurse, and I hope to use this opportunity to defend the profession so that anyone who wants to do this job can do it to the best of their ability.”
Kelly-Williams will assume the helm of the organization as it embarks on a new era of national involvement, with the membership’s
recent endorsement of affiliation with National Nurses United, a new national nurses union founded by the MNA along with the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee and the United American Nurses. The organization, which is holding its founding convention this month, will comprise more than 150,000 members in 22 states and will become the largest union of registered nurses in the nation’s history.
“There is no more important time for nurses to have their voices heard on the national stage than now,” Kelly-Williams explained. “Many of the issues that impact our members’ ability to care for patients safely are settled outside of our state’s borders. Our participation in a new national nurses union will allow our members to lend their voices to a host of issues, including health reforms, labor reforms and the national push for legislation to guarantee safe RN staffing levels in America’s hospitals.”
Kelly-Williams is also committed to winning passage of legislation on the state level, long sought after by the MNA, to establish safe patient limits for nurses and provide a ban on mandatory overtime, while establishing programs to foster the recruitment of nurses into the profession.
She is also interested in educating nurses about the importance of creating safe and respectful work environments where every nurse is valued and protected. “In the current chaotic health care system, nurses are often overworked and overstressed, subject to workplace violence from patients and visitors, as well as horizontal violence from peers, physicians and co-workers,” she explained. “I will make it my goal to work within the nursing and health care community to foster an environment of tolerance and respect which, in the end, will ensure the safety of the patients.”
According to MNA Executive Director Julie Pinkham, “Donna is truly a nurse’s nurse who is widely respected as both a clinician and as a fierce advocate for her colleagues. Passionate and tenacious are two words that define her commitment to nursing and to the labor movement that protects nurses.”
Kelly-Williams has spent her entire nursing career as a front-line caregiver and staff nurse at Cambridge Hospital, where she began her career as a nurse’s aide in the newborn nursery in 1974. Later she “clawed her way into nursing school,” walking into the dean of nursing’s office after first being rejected and asking to just be given a chance to prove that she could be a good nurse. She was admitted the following year, and she made good on her promise. She began a career as a medical-surgical nurse, but soon returned to caring for infants and children, where she remained for the next 24years, until Cambridge Health Alliance consolidated services and eliminated its pediatric in-patient program. She is now orienting to her new role in the hospital’s maternity unit.
“Thirty-years later I still love being a nurse. I cherish every child who I was able to make feel better,” she said with a smile. “And now, despite being a rookie again in labor and delivery, it never ceases to amaze me the power nurses have to show compassion for a patient, to help them get through whatever they are facing. I take pride in holding those newborns and rocking them to sleep at night so that their exhausted mom can get the rest they need.”
A talented educator, Kelly-Williams recently received the Massachusetts General Hospital Clinical Excellence in Resident Education Award, for her work in mentoring pediatric residents.
A longtime labor activist
Kelly-Williams is equally committed to her role as a union member and leader, and the power the union movement brings to nurses and workers. Her interest in the labor movement was sparked at the outset of her nursing career when, during her first year as a nurses aide, she was confronted with a picket line for a pending strike by health care workers at her facility. Upon going home and asking her father’s advice as to what she should do, the answer came back clear and unequivocal: “you support your union, you don’t cross a picket line.”
“That strike eventually resulted in my receiving a significant pay increase and other benefits, and I became acquainted with what a union can do,” Kelly-Williams said.
Later in her career, Kelly-Williams became involved in her own union, the MNA, at Cambridge Hospital. She joined the negotiating committee, and eventually became elected chair of the bargaining unit, a position she has held for the last 15 years. In her role, Kelly-Williams was recognized as one of the strongest local bargaining unit leaders in the state. She is respected by management, and every city council member and local legislator are well acquainted with her and the issues in which she and her members are interested in.
In recent years she served on the MNA Board of Directors and for the last four years served as the MNA vice president, helping to lead the organization’s efforts to address a host of issues including, safe RN staffing, the prevention of workplace violence, a 2008 ballot campaign to defeat Question 1 (which would have eliminated the state income tax) and the push for the MNA affiliation with National Nurses United.
In addition to her passion for nursing, Kelly- Williams is most proud of her family, her husband of 31 years, her two sons who are both Marine Corps veterans who served in Iraq, Japan and the Mediterranean and are now Massachusetts state troopers, and her daughters, Kathleen who is a graduate student in education at Salem State College, and Kelly who, like her mom, is working on establishing a career in nursing.
Surveying her life and career, Kelly-Williams tells of her pride when she was recently invited to a special dinner at the prestigious Harvard Faculty Club as part of the Harvard Trade Union program. “My parents were both first generation Americans, and my mother for years worked in the kitchen there, and she always had to enter from the back door. I remember using that door to go visit her. But here I was, representing this powerful organization, having dinner at a table my mother used to serve, knowing how proud she would have been to see me walk in through the front door.”