A lot can happen in a decade. Consider bioterrorism, H1N1 viruses, a spike in obesity, gangs in schools and rising concerns about bullying and teen suicide.
These are the kinds of tough truths NYSUT's health care professionals take on every day in their jobs. NYSUT responds by providing an educational forum each year on the latest health care issues.
The past 10 years of NYSUT's Professional Issues Forum on Health Care follow a roadmap of the progress, challenges and even alarms as members tackle new mandates, trends and concerns for patient care.
"We have national speakers, timely topics and hard-hitting issues," said Kathleen Donahue, NYSUT vice president who oversees health care for the union. "We focus on emerging trends and complicated cases. The forum is a very specialized professional development opportunity for our health groups, where people can network, share ideas and exchange information." Continuing nursing education contact hours are now provided for participants in many sessions.
The forum was the brainchild of NYSUT's Health Care Professionals Council, which sought ways to bring their diverse groups together.
"It's been about collaboration and growth," said Anne Goldman, chair of the council. "The forum has brought focus on the additional role of our organization to advocate for both those we serve — patients and students — and those we represent."
The forum is a one-day conference that has benefited school and hospital nurses, school psychologists, school counselors and occupational, respiratory and physical therapists, among others.
"Regardless of where you work, you grow as an individual by learning new ideas," said Carol Braund, SUNY Upstate Medical Center RN and president of the United University Professions chapter there. She is a founding member of NYSUT's Health Care Council. "Your vision is narrowed by always talking to the same people and doing things the same way."
When anthrax was mailed to members of the U.S. Senate and the media in 2001, the deadly powder alarmed a nation of health care providers who had to deal with containment and treatment. The first forum in 2003 addressed how the new threats of bioterrorism created significant responsibilities for the health care industry. That same year, participants learned how to handle the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The patient record protection law went into effect the same month as the forum.
During the next several years, the forum kept its finger on the pulse of pressing issues facing health care professionals who work in schools, including dealing with an increase in childhood obesity, autism, current medications to treat behavior disorders in children, and what to know about gang affiliations.
"There are complicated cases that school nurses, social workers and counselors deal with on a day-to-day basis," Donahue said. "Many students who used to be in specialized settings are now being mainstreamed."
Participants also had the opportunity to be trained in how to use Automated External Defibrillators, following the 2002 passage of a NYSUT-supported law requiring an AED in every school.
As frightening new plagues and pandemics emerged, the 2006 forum focused on infection control measures for avian influenza, SARS and the West Nile virus. Remember concerns about the new Human Papillomavirus vaccine? Presenters delved into that issue as well as adolescent gynecology questions and concerns at the 2007 forum.
Another important session educated practitioners about individuals who harm themselves. An interactive workshop laid out the role of unions in achieving much sought after national health care. The health care reform act, which provides near-universal coverage, was signed into law by President Barack Obama three years later.
"We want to increase the involvement of health care professionals," said Donahue. Many who attend the conference now come to NYSUT's annual health care lobby day to help get legislation passed.
NYSUT, for example, was instrumental in getting a law passed that put an end to mandatory overtime for hospital nurses, which brought relief to working nurses and hope to those considering nursing.
"Being mandated is one of the biggest reasons why women left nursing," said Braund. "Being mandated put them into a terrible position." To have to stay at work and have children at home needing care is a "no- win" she said.
The future of nursing was explored at a forum, with an emphasis on recruitment and retention to alleviate the nursing shortage still affecting hospitals across the country.
In 2008, the forum was the place to find out about MRSA, a methicillin-resistant staph bacteria on the rise and causing grave concerns among health care workers. Other professional concerns covered were anger management, periodontal disease and adolescent eating disorders.
Collective bargaining for the health care professional was a topic in 2010. Braund said some school nurses have been able to get their salaries raised to a similar level as teachers as a result of bargaining strategies shared at the conferences. That same year, expressive arts therapies were introduced to help health care professionals work in new ways with patients. Participants also studied traumatic brain injuries.
Bullying, the new student epidemic, was a focus in 2011, as was the return of tuberculosis, and suicide prevention. Updates on the new electronic reporting requirement were taught. And this year, the forum honed in on drugs currently used by teens, how visiting nurses can stay safe when making calls, and how to mobilize members.
Jeanne Daley, a school nurse and member of the Newburgh Teachers Association, attended her first forum this year. "I found information on legal considerations especially helpful when grappling with concerns over HIPAA and FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy) regulations," she said. Since her school is working on standardizing data entry, electronic recording was "a key factor in my choosing to attend this year's forum. I would highly recommend attendance at future forums for my colleagues."