Healthcare Justice Is Social Justice

The fights for our profession, our patients and our communities are all interconnected. Members sometimes ask me why NYSNA nurses are involved in racial justice, climate justice or gender justice, for example. They wonder what these issues have to do with nursing. I tell them that these fights are inseparable from our fights for healthcare justice.

When I was at the bedside, I saw patients come in sicker because they lacked access to primary care. Or they lived in an area burdened by decades of heavy pollution and high rates of asthma. Or previous healthcare providers had dismissed or discounted their pain. The problems that exist in the wider world drive the health disparities and poor health outcomes we see inside our healthcare facilities.

As a nurse, I know I have the responsibility to advocate for my patients — at the bedside and beyond. That’s more than standard preventative or primary care — it includes addressing patients’ social determinants of health. People cannot truly heal and thrive unless their underlying living conditions are addressed.

The same goes for nurses. Just as nurses have an ethical duty to others, we have a duty to self. If we struggle to pay our bills, if we struggle to be safe at work, if we struggle for respect at work, we are not really thriving. Our collective fight for good contracts and working conditions to improve the lives of our members — approximately 90% of whom are women — is also a fight for healthcare justice and social justice.

Reflecting on the Past and Future

Nurses have a unique position in society to make a difference in peoples’ lives. As caregivers in the most trusted profession, we learn from day one how to advocate. We learn how to observe, gather evidence and put a care plan into place. When we unite as union nurses, we can use our skills, our voices and our power to create a care plan on a much larger scale to address the root causes of the problems our communities face.

When I look at the actions NYSNA nurses have taken recently — from fighting to preserve inpatient mental healthcare and maternal care to advocating for Black lives and health equity, green roofs to reduce our carbon footprint and healthcare for all — I am proud that this work is at the core of our mission as a social justice union. Commemorating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Pride Month and Juneteenth helps us remember we are all unique and also all in this together.

As part of the broader movement for social, economic and racial justice, we have made progress in advancing healthcare justice and protecting human rights and our environment. Many of the positive changes we have
advocated for have been made concrete by lawmakers who listened to their constituents and their consciences.

When NYSNA nurses have engaged in electoral politics, it has been to support candidates who care — and candidates with a record of supporting nurses, working families and the labor movement.

However, progress is not inevitable — we must move it forward or other forces will move it backward. The hard-fought gains we have made are under attack. 2024 is a critical election year. There are elected officials and candidates who promise to roll back the clock on healthcare access, women’s rights, workers’ rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, the environment and more. We cannot allow that to happen.

I hope to see more of our members getting involved and volunteering their time and voices this election year. If we want a brighter future for our profession and our patients, we must continue to fight to make it happen. Nurses are already part of this fight, and when we unite, we truly can make a difference.

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