NEW YORK NURSE: May 2010
by Karen A. Ballard, MA, RN, FAAN, President
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” — Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”
These past few weeks, as we’ve watched the debacle of losing St. Vincent’s Medical Center and witnessed the pain this has caused to its dedicated nurses, one is moved to try and find words of comfort. But, as so often happens when faced with incomprehensible loss, there are no magical words. These nurses worked for decades to provide quality care and fought incredibly hard to maintain the medical center.
While fiscal mismanagement, a tough economy, and the ballooning cost of healthcare seem to be the culprits, there are many unanswered questions. We’ll probably never really know the decisions “behind the scenes” that destroyed this Catholic bastion of healthcare. But the people whose access to care will suffer deserve to know why, who allowed this to happen, and why the combined efforts of healthcare professionals, unions, politicians, community activists, and concerned patients were to no avail. I will always be proud of the NYSNA nurses who gave and gave to St. Vincent’s – they are true advocates and heroes.
At our Lobby Day on April 20, almost 2,000 nurses and students came to Albany to tell state legislators about important patient care issues. The Capitol corridors were flooded with nurses in NYSNA red, wearing pins with messages such as “Underfunded = Understaffed” and “Another Nurse for Health Care Reform.”
Like St. Vincent’s RNs, these activists understood the need to make nursing’s voice heard. We strive for success on behalf of our colleagues and patients, learning from setbacks or defeats, to ultimately achieve legislative success and have a governor sign our long-fought for bills into law.
A recent example of this persistence is the staffing-disclosure legislation that became law in 2009. NYSNA has been doggedly pursuing the regulatory process to ensure what we achieved in statute is implemented. Patients should have easy access to staffing information and nurses must be prepared to interpret these numbers. This includes knowing why different numbers of RNs are needed to deliver care based on patient acuity and reasonable mixes of RNs, licensed practical nurses, and nursing assistants. Education of patients will drive the successful utilization of the hard-won staffing disclosure law.
As nurses, we must move forward knowing that we have the wisdom to make the worst of times into the best of times, the ability to dispel the darkness of the healthcare delivery system, and the belief that we can advance this profession and make positive changes for our patients.