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Health Reform Advances 2,300 Miles Away From DC

While the healthcare reform legislative debate lumbers on in the Senate, the biggest advance for U.S. patients came early this week in Phoenix. Nurses joined three separate nurses' unions into an RN "super union" with the goals of improving the professional lives of clinical RNs and building a healthcare system based on compassion and patient need, not on greed.

Nurses from 23 states are part of the new union, National Nurses United, and represent nurses organized in the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the United American Nurses.

More than 150,000 nurses are joined together to ensure hospitals and clinics where they practice are centers of healing, not profit centers for speculators and CEOs and to promote the profession and honor the dedication of front line nurses with safe conditions, fair compensation, and the ability to retire in dignity.

Along with these goals, the NNU nurses will strongly advocate for a Medicare for all, single-payer healthcare system which would allow them to live out their professional responsibilities to advocate effectively for all patients, not just those with enough money or any certain kind of insurance coverage.

This was the most hopeful news for patients that I have heard in a long time. Improved working conditions for nurses are improved healing conditions for patients. Having enough nurses who have enough time and the right resources to provide a single standard of high quality care would move this nation a long way toward granting healthcare as a basic human right.

Ever been in a hospital setting as a patient (or the family member of a patient) where there were not enough nurses staffed? Ever push a nurse call button and lay sick and hurting and waiting for someone to have time to respond? Ever have to pull yourself up or change positions when a surgical wound is hurting and you cannot reach what you need and no one is near to help and everyone is too busy to assist any time soon? Ever wait like a responsible patient for the time to tick off for another dose of pain medication and then have no one available to bring the meds? Ever have a loved one start experiencing a troubling symptom and no nurse is available to come check things out?


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All of these situations have happened to me and my loved ones in recent years as many hospitals and clinics cut corners whenever and wherever they can and we patients are left in the lurch. And I don't see them cutting bills or room/nursing care charges billed in any of the situations during which I have lacked appropriate nurse staffing to afford me appropriate care. I know I am not alone.

I have sometimes wondered why I am even in a hospital if the cost-saving/staff-sparing efforts of the hospital profit-takers have meant I basically have to provide my own care or guess when I loved one's symptoms are serious enough for me to have to get loud or insistent enough to pull an over-worked nurse away from another patient. We know we'll see our doctors for only moments when we're in the hospital, but we need to have our nurses available to us if we are to have the care we need when we're sick enough to be in the hospital.

Just in the area of quality of care, having better nurse staffing levels and better nurse working conditions means patients have a far better chance to have decent and appropriate care when needed. That thrills me as a patient and as a caregiver for my husband, who has experienced some pretty awful health problems. Having great nursing care has often meant the difference between a shaky outcome from a procedure and the solid start to real healing.

Insofar as the advocacy for real reform goes (a single-payer, Medicare for all type reform), I am equally thrilled that 150,000 NNU nurses will move forward advocating for the only way to really grant the basic human right of healthcare to all -- absolutely consistent with the single standard of high-quality healthcare that enough nurses working under the right conditions advocate for in their other legislative efforts.

This news was without a doubt the best news for American patients that I heard this week. It's time for the nurses who have always touched patients most directly in our healthcare delivery system to take their appropriate position in this reform effort. And the formation of National Nurses United this week more than 2,300 miles away from the Hill, secured the future voice of RNs who waited for no one to set them a place at the traditional political table.

This is a big win for us all. Everybody in, nobody out.

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith Donna Smith is the national chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign for Progressive Democrats of America.  She was featured in Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, SiCKO.

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