We Are Stronger Together Than We Are Apart

Pat Kane, RN

It is not an overstatement to say that the past couple of years has been filled with trauma upon trauma. We have lost loved ones and friends. We have worked in less-than-ideal circumstances. We have experienced gaslighting by employers. We have held the sorrow of colleagues as well as patients, their families and communities. And yet we are still here.

While it would have been easy to do, we have not resigned in acceptance of what is but rather found strength to fight for what should be. We have sought courage to redeem our dreams, even when they seemed unlikely. Despite the challenges we face, we continue to envision a future of which we can be proud. That alone is cause for appreciation and celebration.

But where do we go from here?

Over the next few months, NYSNA does so determined to continue advocating for what healthcare workers need, what their patients need and what their communities need. In this moment, that is safe staffing, working conditions that enable nurses and their patients to thrive, supports such as retention/recognition pay and access to better mental healthcare services.

A Strain on Healthcare

COVID-19 has ravaged the nation on every level. It has strained the healthcare system, separated loved ones, led to the loss of life and increased feelings of hopelessness in caregivers and communities alike. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control reported that “symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April-June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.”  The Mayo Clinic similarly noted that, “Surveys show a major increase in the number of U.S. adults who report symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia during the pandemic, compared with surveys before the pandemic. Some people have increased their use of alcohol or drugs, thinking that can help them cope with their fears about the pandemic.”

The death of former Miss USA, “Extra” TV news correspondent and attorney Charlie Kryst has shaken many to their core. We mourn for her and vow not one more.

Certainly, nurses are not immune to depression and anxiety. Not only can the normal aspects of life lead to feelings of despair but providing care in poor working environments can exacerbate mental health challenges. Those with the capacity to do so must continue advocating for safer working environments that enable nurses to care for themselves and the patients they love. Those who are struggling in this moment must never be afraid to seek support.

NYSNA knows that getting nurses what they need is far greater than a union responsibility; it is a matter of life and death. The nation cannot keep asking healthcare workers to care for everyone but ourselves. Leaders cannot expect us to sustain, when they’re tying things around us that cause us to sink.

NYSNA’s Approach

One of the ways the union is supporting nurses is by continuing to engage the administration over implementation of safe staffing laws. NYSNA wants safe staffing laws because they can save lives and make providing care during a pandemic a little easier. Unfortunately, on Dec. 31, 2021, Gov. Kathy Hochul issued an executive order delaying the implementation of the nursing home staffing laws until the end of January. There have now been subsequent delays, even as we vow to keep pushing.

While employers sought to delay implementation of the hospital staffing law, NYSNA pushed back and won. The hospital staffing law is in place, although the Department of Health must issue the staffing regulation for critical care. As NYSNA continues this work, we have been telling state leaders, and anyone who will listen, that patient safety isn’t optional for healthcare professionals and therefore shouldn’t be optional for employers.

Retention/Recognition Pay

The other thing we’re doing to support nurses during this time is continuing to fight for retention/recognition pay at the local unit, city, state and federal levels. We raise the need for remuneration in every interaction. We are cautiously optimistic after announcements made by New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Hochul and Sen. Schumer. They are responsive, but we will maintain pressure until our requests are fully realized. Additionally, as Hochul’s budget process ensues, we will pursue every opportunity for nurses to testify on working conditions, the need for retention/recognition pay, the challenge of travel nurses and other items that impact worker morale and patient care.

Finally, we know that 80 contracts are expiring in 2022. Although we have a lot on our plates, we are making space to support our union colleagues who will soon bargain for new collective bargaining agreements. NYSNA will continue to organize regional and union-wide town halls to map strategies for this moment and beyond. We hope you will join as many town halls as possible in a show of solidarity for members whose contracts are expiring or members seeking a platform to highlight working conditions.

There is indeed no shortage of issues competing for everyone’s time and attention. But we all are stronger together than we are apart.

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