While more than 900 nurses came to San Francisco for the 2013 Staff Nurse Assembly, here the world came to them. Minnesota nurses met colleagues from Ireland, Australia, Korea, and Brazil as well as from across the US. They learned that staffing issues and budget cuts are affecting their job quality and their patients’ safety everywhere.
“We’re not alone in our struggles,” said Katie Skipton, “where we’re from, Bemidji, we can sometimes feel it’s just our problem-with staffing especially. It’s a big deal. We’re finding out that we’re not the only ones that are dealing with us, and we’re not the only ones who are fighting. ”
“It’s a global struggle,” said Fairview nurse Barbara Johnson, “and we’re united as brothers and sisters supporting each other.”
In Ireland, for example, an historic financial collapse caused leaders to implement severe austerity measures. The leader of the Irish nurse and midwife association said thousands of nurses lost their jobs. A hiring freeze on new nurses still exists. Patients are more vulnerable there and increasingly at risk. Just knowing that other nurses are fighting the same battles is assuring, nurses say, as well as empowering them and emboldening them to push further.
“Being from a very small town and a small community hospital,” said Jenna Foulk, a nurse from Marshalltown, Iowa, “it’s nice to have a bigger picture of what other nurses have gone though.”
“It’s nice to know that other facilities have the same problems we have,” said Virginia nurse Lora Sandstrom, “and we’re not the only ones who feel this way.”
“If you look at all the nurses in the world, then it becomes an even bigger force and more important that we be advocates for our patients,” said Jodi Hensley, also from Virginia.
Nurses also heard how they’ve come together to implement solutions. In California, nurses have beaten back attempted legislative repeals of ratio laws. In Australia, two territories have implemented minimum ratios. And, in Minnesota, nurses won hospital transparency that forces hospitals to report their staffing plans. What made the difference is nurses collectively fought back.
“It’s not just one person fighting against the problem,” Johnson said, “we can see that there’s thousands of people fighting those problems, and we have a better idea of how to answer those problems.”
”We so much focus on ourselves and our country that we forget that other countries have solved it. And that makes me feel that we should be able to do it,” said Foulk.
“It’s great to see all these nurses from across the country and know we have each others’ backs,” said Courtney Lucht, a nurse at Fairview, “we’ve been able to work with our legislatures and pass some bills that are really going to affect Minnesotans for the next decade.”
“We want to make it better here,” said Kathy Winger, a Bemidji nurse, “and we can because we care about our patients, our families, our children, and grandchildren.”
Nurses from Minnesota and all over the world came together on the Golden Gate Bridge. In a literal exercise of solidarity, nurses marched from San Francisco to Marin County to protest the Keystone XL pipeline that will carry dirty tarsands crude oil from Canada to various refineries-link to video of march: http://youtu.be/nZWHF9gM3qc
“You walk across the bridge, and it’s a sea of red,” said Mercy Hospital nurse Cassandra Hamilton, “then you look back and the bridge is still completely full. And you get started on coming back, and the bridge is still full. It was amazing. Just goes to show why we’re the most trusted profession.”
In educational seminars, nurses heard about tactics to push for better contracts and better patient care, such as petitions, gauntlets of nurses greeting management, and marches on the boss. In Ireland, nurses pushed for policies that dictate only RNs can wear black or white scrubs so patients know who is a Registered Nurse and who isn’t. DC nurses collected a wagonfull of 1500 concern for safe staffing forms to show the media the threat of unsafe staffing. Other ideas included buttons that read, “Registered nurse, NOT Robot nurse.”
Minnesota nurses have already implemented many of these tactics, and they’ve used them to support fellow bargaining units. In Duluth, St. Mary’s nurses were joined by Virginia and Superior nurses for the first day of bargaining. In greater Minnesota, Bemidji nurses went to Thief River Falls to support fellow Sanford nurses.
“You can face those problems alone, or you can face it together,” said Bemidji nurse Peter Danielson, “we know when we stand up and we’ve kept something bad out of another contract, we have a good chance of keeping it out of our contract.”
Staff Nurse Assembly allowed nurses to take that solidarity and extend past their unit, past their hospital, and even beyond their state. They cheered for each victory as if it were their own.
“I feel more solidarity here,” said Liz Binkert from Bemidji, “ it feels good to know there’s people supporting us. I definitely learned the lesson of what good nurses can do for your state.”