Nurses play it straight

It was Carol Braund’s last NYSUT Health Care volunteer lobby day as a nurse from SUNY Upstate Medical Center. And it was the first volunteer lobby day for Augustine Balaram, an RN from Visiting Nurse Service in Manhattan.

Despite the difference in years of their careers, they have a lot in common. Like the other 90 nurses who came to the Capitol and the Legislative Office Building today to meet with lawmakers, they want to see change. Practical, pragmatic, patient-oriented change. These health care professionals, with the support of NYSUT, seek laws to require:

  • safe patient handling (using mechanical lifts instead of relying solely on nurses, who, along with their patients, sustain many injuries);
  • safe nurse-patient staffing ratios in hospitals
  • no mandatory overtime for visiting nurses
  • a school nurse in every building in the big five cities in New York– New York, Buffalo, Yonkers, Syracuse and Rochester

Braund retired a few days ago, but cheerfully was ready to work the lobby day.

“I learn a lot from the visiting nurses,” she said. Hospitals will soon be penalized if a patient is readmitted to the hospital within 30 days — and it is visiting nurses who can safely keep that patient well at home, she said. They provide education along with care. And it is not safe for them to be kept on the job late at night, often in unsafe city neighborhoods, or driving along desolate roads in rural areas.

Mandatory overtime “makes you work when you may not be capable,” said Balaram, who works as a visiting  nurse. Also, he said, “It’s mentally taxing when you go to work and can’t predict what time you’ll be be home.” The visiting nurses say they expect to work longer in emergencies — they are talking about regular, daily shifts that could be made predictable with proper scheduling.

As for staff-patient ratios,  “The fewer patients per nurse, the better the health outcome,” said Braund, who until her retirement was the United University Professions chapter president at Upstate Medical Center for the past three years.

NYSUT’s health care advocates lobbied lawmakers throughout the day in both the Senate and Assembly offices. During lunch, they were visited by  Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Middletown, who told a group of nursing students new to lobby day:  “Welcome to a great field. You’re going to love it!” As a former nurse, she knows of what she speaks.

Another former nurse, Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Bronx, told the health care workers that “nursing is part of my lexicon and my DNA. It’s a noble profession.” New York, she said, should be in the business of creating health. She praised the health care professionals for taking time to speak to lawmakers, who are presented with many issues in specialized fields.

“We need you to be able to spend time to explain the bills,” she said.

“You are critical to not only our health and well-being, but to everything we need,” said Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, the first female Senate Democratic leader. “If we’re not healthy it just doesn’t work.”

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