NEW YORK NURSE: June 2009
Mary J. Finnin is retired. Officially, at any rate. After a long career as a public health nurse in the Suffolk County Health Department, she has earned the right to relax.
But Finnin has stayed in touch with the political forces that affect health care in her county. So she was ready to spring into action on April 22, when she saw the agenda for a meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature included a proposal to close a county clinic in Central Islip. The meeting was scheduled for the following day.
Finnin contacted the NYSNA local bargaining unit Southside Hospital, which supplies registered nurses to work in the clinic. In addition to the impact of the closing on needy patients, it was possible that registered nurses could lose their jobs. The RNs started calling their legislators.
Activism is nothing new for Finnin. She was on staff at NYSNA in the 1960s, working out of the New York City office as Associate Executive Secretary in what was then called the Economic Security Program. She fought in the campaign to win wage parity for nurses who worked for the New York City Department of Hospitals. She is used to winning her battles.
So, on the morning of April 23, Finnin was ready to speak to the Suffolk County legislators. She told them that the Central Islip clinic serves almost 3,000 patients, including 350 prenatal women, many from the area’s large Hispanic population. She addressed the transportation problems for patients if they have to travel to other clinics, which are already overcrowded.
“I was helped by the fact that the county had just identified its first case of H1N1 swine flu and that a level 5 epidemic had been declared by the World Health Organization,” Finnin said.
“This is a classic public health situation where you need registered professional nurses in the community to identify possible cases and make appropriate referrals for testing and care,” she told the legislators. “Public health nurses are the first responders when epidemics like this occur. The public health infrastructure needs to be maintained and improved in all counties.”
By the end of the day, the resolution to close the clinic had been dropped. It was another victory for Mary Finnin, but could be only temporary. “There is another proposal to create a regional health center for an area originally covered by three clinics (Bayshore. Brentwood, and Central Islip). This is years away from being a reality, but there should be a plan for providing access to services for all patients affected.”