Television dramas sometimes proclaim that their shows are “ripped from the headlines.” NYSUT’s Professional Issues Forum on Health Care does the same, offering professionals a deeper look at some of the darkness affecting today’s students and patients.
When a new forum for health care professionals was introduced at NYSUT 15 years ago, it dealt with basic, primer-type issues. Every year since then, forum planners have delved deeper. As evidenced by Saturday’s forum, it has now evolved into a robust platform for delivering essential information about knotty and life-altering present-day health problems. There is the opioid crisis, mental health issues, transgender awareness, feeding disorders, current threats to health care, grieving students, poverty, vaccination resistance, and creating trauma-informed schools.
Tough topics have been tackled in the past few years with similar mettle, including gritty portraits of gangs in schools, adolescents who cut and self-harm, suicide, bullying and drug abuse. While, to many, these sessions might require a “Viewer Discretion Advised” label, to health care professionals, they are a fact of life from which they do not have the option of turning away.
“There’s so much more of a focus on mental health, social community and health care,” said Maureen Rizzi, NYSUT director of constituencies and program services who oversees the forum each year. This was her last forum; she is retiring this summer.
(Photo at right: Raquel Webb Geddes, UFT, a member of NYSUT's Health Care Professionals Council)
Anne Goldman, chair of the NYSUT Health Care Professional Council, told the more than 100 forum participants that, with threats to health care jobs, programs and funding, it is more important than ever for professionals to share with others the role they play in serving students, patients and community.
“Communication means you can identify your work, why your role matters and why it matters to the community,” Goldman said to the room full of school social workers, psychologists, speech therapists, dentists, occupational therapists, counselors, and hospital and visiting nurses. “This way, when we are fighting for the school social worker or school nurse, the community will know what it means … We must achieve and identify talent.”
(Photo at right: Lorrie Tanner, Tim Hummell, Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES, after a session on trauma informed schools.)
How can health care workers stand up for what they do and protect jobs?
“You have an opportunity. Let us use our union voice to accelerate the process,’ Goldman said. “To have a voice and to make change requires being an equal … Let us use the machinery to make that happen.”
Goldman said health care professionals must drive the agenda with data and then use the muscle of the union to identify, organize and make change.
“We must work through the political arena,” she said.
“Ask yourself: ‘Am I better off being a part of a larger group, or dealing with issues one on one?’” suggested NYSUT Second Vice President Paul Pecorale. He said NYSUT-driven legislative successes on behalf of health care workers — and all those that they help — include paid leave for cancer screening; safe patient handling act; increased penalties for assaults on nurses; and anti-mandatory overtime for hospital nurses.
Pecorale encouraged participants to take part in NYSUT''s May 9 health care professionals lobby day at the Capitol, where the quest will continue for safe nurse-patient staff ratios, a school nurse in every building and addressing violence in the workplace.