Mark-Anthony Williams is in his third year working as a nurse, yet this is the first year he came to the NYSUT Health Care Professionals Lobby Day. He decided to get active, he said, after learning how much the union he belongs to - Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals/ United Federation of Teachers, a NYSUT affiliate - advocates for nurses and patients.
In school, he said, Williams learned critical thinking nursing care and skills but, on the job, he has learned how much the advocacy and research that nurses do impacts their patients.
Williams was one of hundreds of unionist health care professionals - including his mother, nurse Chloe Willliams - who traveled to the state Capitol in Albany yesterday to talk to lawmakers about the importance of bills to protect the health and safety of both workers and patients. NYSUT members joined the throngs of activists from PEF, CWA, NYSNA and SEIU 1199 that included school nurses, hospital nurses, visiting nurses and other health care professionals.
NYSUT supports bills for safe staffing ratios for patients-nurses; anti-mandatory overtime for home care nurses; and a nurse in every school building. NYSUT opposes allowing non-medically trained school staff personnel to administer insulin to diabetic students.
"Insulin is a dangerous drug," explained Cora Shillingford, a visiting nurse from FNHP/UFT. Special training is required for assessing a person and administering the drug if necessary. Administering insulin when it is not needed could quickly cause death, she said. Additionally, a person needs good eyesight and has to know that the needle needs to be inserted at a certain angle for absorption.
NYSUT favors student self-medication best practices, where students who are diagnosed with diabetes are able to administer their own medication with written permission from a physician and parent; with the diabetic medicine and equipment also available to school medical staff.
State Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-Garden City, chair of the Senate Health Committee, said establishing nurse-patient staffing ratios is "a model whose time and come and passed. It's a team approach now. This is the way medical care is going."
He said ratios for nurses would establish a precedent that would mean more ratios for lab techs, assistants, respiratory techs, etc.
"In health care, the entire service is the caregiver," Hannon affirmed. "The difficulty in health care is writing rules that cover every decision."
Renee Setteducato, Federation of Nurses and HCP/UFT, told lawmakers that safe patient-nurse ratios are needed because "over the years the ability to provide the best care and the safest care has been waning."
The Lutheran Medical Center nurse said: "Patients are coming in in more critical conditions. They're living longer. We're not given the tools to provide the best care."
Nurses shared how if a colleague calls in sick, administrators typically will not call in another nurse to pick up that shift because they don't want to spend the money. This leaves fewer nurses to care for patients when their ratios are already high.
Complications in health increase in proportion to nurses on staff, nurses explained.
Meanwhile, Setteducato said, "Our CEO is one the highest paid in the country. We have so many vice presidents I can't keep up, making high six-figure salaries."
Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh, speaking to a packed room at the convention center in The Egg, pledged: "I'm going to fight to make sure we have safe nurse-patient ratios … We'll do it!" She herself is a registered nurse.
Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Bronx, told the NYSUT nurse lobbyists she also worked as a nurse, and she described the strain of having to cover two floors of patients. In addition to caring for the patient, educating and including their families, and making the patient comfortable, all add to the healing process.
"Your workplace conditions must be safe, not just for you, but also for the patient," she said.
To take action to support safe staffing, go to mac.nysut.org.
Anne Goldman, chair of the NYSUT Health Care Professionals Council and a UFT vice president for health care workers, addressed the need for a school nurse in every building. She said there are 180 school nurses in New York City and more than one million students. Sending students to the emergency room is far more costly than the cost of school nurse, who is available for continuing care and education.
NYSUT's Steve Allinger, director of legislation, said the huge push to bring medically fragile students into mainstream school populations needs to be supported by proper care.
"If you're not providing health care, that's just neglect," he explained to Norreida Reyes, legislative and budget analyst for Sen. Jeffrey Klein, D-Bronx/Westchester.
Children, he said, are "developing human beings. The school nurse becomes a hub for healthy lifestyles as well as exercise and nutrition."
Goldman told the story of a young boy who was biting and acting out. It was determined he had a behavioral disorder - until a school nurse discovered he had abscesses and eroded teeth.
"There are many of these stories," Goldman said.
Paul Egan, director of legislation and political action for the UFT, related how students' vision was tested in one school, and one-third of the students needed eyeglasses.
"Now the kids can see, learn and they are not behavioral problems," he said.
Reyes invited NYSUT staff to help set up a planning meeting in June to go over data on health care and education, and to look at the concerns.
Sen. John Flanagan R-Smithtown, listened as school nurse Ann O'Hara, a member of the Syracuse Teachers Association, told him about students in her care who have moved to the area from Somalia and Viet Nam under charity outreach programs. One child has to be catheterized twice a day, in addition to the other 50 students she sees daily.
"I'm catheterizing him and teaching him reading at the same time," she said, smiling. "His mother tells me 'You are his mother here.'"
Rather than sending a child to the emergency room for "episodic care," in the school O'Hara said she can make assessments, explain to the parent what is happening, and then treat the child or send him/her to the school clinic or the primary care physician. Schools need a nurse in every building, she emphasized.
"I'm acutely mindful of the responsibility we have to health care," Sen. Flanagan said.
Shillingford was one of many visiting nurses who beseeched lawmakers to include visiting nurses in the anti-mandatory overtime nursing bill passed several years ago for hospital nurses.
"With the number of patients we're assigned, we can be out there until 8, 9 or 10 o'clock at night," she said. "And the paperwork is killing us."
Cynthia McDaniel, UFT visiting nurse, explained how a new, uniform state personal assessment needs to be streamlined because it is adding hefty amounts of time to visits.
Among the active workers and the retirees who attended the lobby day were some visiting nurses who have been laid off from Visiting Nurse Services of New York City within the past few months in the wake of Medicare fraud on the part of VNS and new corporate management. One worked at VNS for 30 years, another for 15.