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Nursing Union Goes to Washington

 |  By  
   June 07, 2011

Nurses are rallying in Washington, DC, Tuesday to bring attention to average Americans' healthcare hardships, saying the economic downturn has resulted in a healthcare emergency for many in this country.

The event has been organized by National Nurses United, the country's largest nursing union, which represents 170,000 nurses. NNU expects nurses to be joined by labor and community allies and will rally in front of the White House, Congress, and the Chamber of Commerce.

The NNU is proposing a "Main Street Contract for the American People," which, according to a press release, is "a program for rebuilding American communities with jobs, healthcare, education, and other urgent needs, funded through a fair tax policy targeted at those on Wall Street who created the economic crisis."

The event puts nurses at the forefront of healthcare reform discussions and positions them as advocates for patients. The presentations will link the recession and everyday Americans' economic woes to a myriad of problems, including poor health outcomes.

"We're here to talk about reinvesting in America in turns of investing in our communities," says  DeAnn McEwen, RN, co-president of the California Nurses Association. "We believe it has to change. People are suffering. We see them every day. They have lost their jobs, they are suffering illnesses, hospitals are closing beds. There's a whole population of people who have lost their healthcare coverage."

In an article in NNU's magazine for its members, the organization posited that healthcare legislation missed its chance to reform the industry and instead served to further entrench an insurance system that leaves too many Americans uninsured or underinsured. It states that too many are either without care or shoulder so much of the economic responsibility for healthcare that it leaves them financially strapped or forced to choose between medical care and essential household payments.

"We see something wrong and we have credibility with the public," says McEwen. "As the public's advocates, they trust and depend on us to run interference. It's our duty and right to stand up and say this is wrong. We see tremendous disparity between rich and poor."

U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer (authors of two NNU-sponsored bills), AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and other legislators and community leaders will be speaking at the event. Boxer has introduced a patient safety bill that would establish minimum RN-to-patient ratios at all acute care hospitals across all shifts, as well as patient classification systems to ensure appropriate staffing.

"Numerous studies have been released saying patients suffer from preventable complications when there are not sufficient numbers of RNs at the bedside to meet their needs," says McEwen. "That's what breaks our hearts. We see people being harmed by this system when there aren't sufficient numbers of people there."

This event will likely garner coverage from mainstream media and serve to reinforce the public's impression that nurses are true patient advocates. Year after year, nurses are voted the most trusted professionals in the country in a national Gallup survey, and this type of event further solidifies in the public's mind that nurses have their best interest at heart.

It's a savvy move by NNU. Nurses are uniquely positioned to understand the way healthcare is delivered and experienced in this country and they see all too often the realities of how that care is delivered and the hardships often faced. As such, their voice is crucial in discussions about reform and provision of care.

NNU has found a large soapbox to ensure its voice is heard. And in doing so, it has served to solidify the impression of nurses as patient advocates. The next time contract discussions at a hospital represented by NNU heat up, this campaign will be included in the media coverage. If nurses are calling for patient ratios or more staff from a big business healthcare system, who is more likely to receive the most public support?

Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at

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