When do we jump?

If a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water, which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.”

This parable has been used to describe abusive relationships, slippery slopes and subtle negative changes that are imposed upon us carefully, gradually, so that we don’t notice that we are being exploited. This is the face of nursing today.

Every day new responsibilities are being forced upon us, slowly: additional tasks, documentation, new (unhelpful) technology and unrealistic policy changes that are impossible to comply with.

Today’s out-patient units look like ERs, med-surg units look like ICUs, ICUs look like futuristic survival incubators, ORs look like MASH units, and ERs look like post-apocalyptic refugee centers.

Baring the brunt

We’re expected to be excellent nurses, model parents, caregivers to extended families and neighbors — but where are the meaningful provisions put in place by employers to accommodate these roles? Nurses are singled out for the slightest oversight, facing harsher discipline than ever. Even with FMLA and paid family leave, we’re harassed if we’re ill, if our families require our presence or if we require time off to deal with a crisis.

We face more violence on the job — even fatal events — with minimal support and prophylaxis from our bosses. Nurses bear the brunt of the animosity expressed by frustrated, angry and depressed patients and families, even though we have no say in the policies that create the problems. Cuts in healthcare and taxes will make this scenario even more unbearable.

On-the-job educational programs and resources have been reduced, even as acuity rises, social problems abound, and care delivery is more highly specialized and complex than in the past.

Health system “leaders” are business bureaucrats, not clinicians. If our bosses ever practiced nursing, it was a long, long time ago. How often do we hear managers say they used to get “everything done,” and “left on time?” Really?

IT documentation systems are de-skilling machines — robbing us of our professional autonomy and creativity while resulting in increased vision problems, carpal tunnel syndrome and backaches. But these systems ensure that patients get charged for every gauze pad and IV insertion. What is the definition of a non-nursing function? We are doing virtual billing!

So when do we say “Enough!”

Do we jump up, out of health care’s murky waters before it’s too late?

Or do we get swallowed up by a system that cares little about communities and less about us?

The challenges are huge. We must be vigilant and super-organized to deal with the Supreme Court’s expected anti-union “Right to Work” ruling — a transparent attempt to cut the throat of union power; the impact of draconian cuts, even beyond our worst nightmares; and a continuous use by corporate politicians of jingoistic and divisive phraseology and concepts, both subtle and open, indirect and direct, meant to distract us from the very real crises our generation and future generations will face.

Winning with NYSNA

Unionized nurses — who remain in the union — have choices. Over the past few years, NYSNA has won positive changes in the quality of life for nurses and in the care we deliver. We have successfully fought to preserve safety nets for patients and benefits for our members.

But these victories can be partial and temporary, as employers attempt to surreptitiously erode contract provisions whenever they can.

So what are we doing? Tens of thousands of nurses’ contracts are expiring this year, and we are leveraging our collective power to win superior agreements. NYSNA passed historic bylaws that will create a leadership body of more than 600 members! Nurses are organizing, not only to preserve what we have, but to make serious improvements. We won a landslide victory at Putnam Hospital in the Hudson Valley, as those nurses recognized that they, too, needed a voice.

I am so proud of our nurse volunteers who’ve taken their own time and resources to help the victims of extreme weather, not only in the US, but all over the world. From folks in our hospital units and neighborhoods to those across oceans, nurses continue to step up and step out, sharing our skills, and our love, with those who need it.

I am proud of the nurses who march for justice ...
Who organize safe staffing campaigns on their units ...
Who sit through tortuous negotiations so that their colleagues can enjoy a decent quality of life ...
Who argue our case with recalcitrant legislators ...
Who defend coworkers who need representation ...
Who help another nurse who needs a hand ...
Who make it to work, even when they are unhappy with their jobs ...
Who argue with their bosses who try to get away with blaming US for poor staffing due to a colleague’s sick call or leave of absence.

Don’t believe the hype! We do not control our hospitals’ budgets, and we bear NO RESPONSIBILITY for low staffing for any reason whatsoever.

The time to jump is now, before the water gets too hot. Or before we get left out in the cold …

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