10:47 AM Eastern - Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nurse Alliance Year in Review: 2011 #default

Nurse Alliance Year in Review: 2011

The year 2011 will go down as one of the more intense for many of us. We took part in many actions, organizing drives, meetings, conference calls, and rallies. What took place this year is not terribly different than all the other years: We showed up!

We used our collective voice to continue the good fight to protect our rights, and proved we could not--and would not--be silenced when advocating for the rights of our patients.

You are a phenomenal group of fierce, educated union members who proved again this year that if the fight was on Capitol Hill, you made it to D.C., if the fight was in Wisconsin, you were there as well.

On a personal note, one of my most memorable moments of 2011 took place up in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. I was up there to support a group of healthcare workers employed at the Pocono Medical Center. Word got around that these sisters and brothers needed us in town...and more than 5,000 of us showed the world what solidarity looks like. The rally was the biggest one I'd ever been to in my working career--it was, well, brilliant!

Take a minute to read through some of the year's highlights and feel the pride of accomplishment that we all brought to the table, the facilities, the Capitol, and everywhere else.

Was there a monumental moment in your working life in 2011 that you want to share? Please do so in a note to me: Richard.Negri@seiu.org

We hope you'll consider forwarding this special year-end Roundup to any SEIU nurses you know so they can sign up to receive these bi-weekly updates too. Click here to share the Round-up.

"Below-Target" nursing shifts and increased workloads signal greater risk of mortality for patients.

When a New England Journal of Medicine study on the relationship between nurse staffing levels and patient mortality rates was released earlier in 2011, it was met with our Union's 85,000+ nurses strongly supporting the study's conclusions.

Dian Palmer, RN, and Chair of the National Nurse Alliance, said: "Let there be no more debate about the link between nurse staffing levels and patients' health--there are far too many lives at stake."

The study was researched and written by Jack Needleman, Ph.D., Peter Buerhaus, Ph.D., R.N., V. Shane Pankratz, Ph.D., Cynthia L. Leibson, Ph.D., Susanna R. Stevens, M.S.,  and Marcelline Harris, Ph.D., R.N. Since its publication, Dr. Neeleman has attended a few of RN conferences to discuss, in even greater detail, the study.

At the end of the day, the validation of this report is 10-fold as SEIU Nurses have linked understaffing and patient mortality rates for many years. The study underscores this with the following:

Staffing by RNs was within 8 hours of the target level for 84% of shifts, and patient turnover was within 1 SD of the day-shift mean for 93% of shifts. Overall mortality was 61% of the expected rate for similar patients on the basis of modified diagnosis-related groups. There was a significant association between increased mortality and increased exposure to unit shifts during which staffing by RNs was 8 hours or more below the target level (hazard ratio per shift 8 hours or more below target, 1.02; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.01 to 1.03; P<0.001). The association between increased mortality and high patient turnover was also significant (hazard ratio per high-turnover shift, 1.04; 95% CI, 1.02 to 1.06; P<0.001) 

Dian issued a statement in March 2011 saying, "SEIU nurses are committed to delivering the highest quality care to patients and we can achieve that goal by ensuring that every state has robust and effective safe staffing legislation. We will continue to reach out to nurses and concerned citizens to ask for their support of safe staffing legislation in states such as Pennsylvania, Florida and New York." 

Do you want to share with other SEIU Nurses your own experiences around nurse-to-patient ratios? If so, please email me: Richard.Negri@seiu.org

Safe Patient Handling: a report on Washington State's 2006 SPH law and the passage of of AB 1136 in California

In January 2011, a report titled, "Implementation of Safe Patient Handling in Washington State Hospitals," was published. The report is the first of two evaluations of the 2006 law requiring hospitals to establish safe patient handling committees and programs, including the acquisition of lift equipment that would be paid for, in part, with the help of a tax credit.

Sometimes it takes a report for folks to "get it...." In this case, OSHA put out a statement shortly after the report was published, stating, "Washington's safe patient handling law has substantially reduced workers compensation claims for back injuries in the state's hospitals."

Really? Who knew?

Our Union has supported a national Occupational Safety and Health Administration safe patient handling standard for a very long time, and we pointed to this study as further evidence of the effectiveness of safe patient handling laws.

SEIU Health and Safety Director, Bill Borwegen, said, "We are glad to see that positive changes also occurred in some nursing homes, resulting in a reduction of back injury claims, especially in nursing homes affiliated with hospitals."

Though it might be hard to find in the report, if it wasn't for the determination and drive of SEIU nurse members and member leaders, the 2006 Washington State Safe Patient Handling Law would likely not have passed in the first place. 

California, here we come

We are safe in saying that, like in 2006 in Washington State, our work paid off again as AB 1136--a California Safe Patient Handling law--passed this year.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed an earlier version of this bill, but SEIU nurses in California weren't about to go down silently. In keeping that drumbeat going, we reported that Governor Jerry Brown, in October, signed the landmark law.

"There isn't a nurse that I've met that doesn't have a story of experiencing an injury while caring for a patient that took them off work either temporarily or permanently," said Ingela Dhalgren, RN, and the Executive Director of the SEIU Nurse Alliance of California.

Bill Borwegen says that for more than a decade, "mechanical lifting and transfer devices were proven to be remarkably effective in reducing injuries while simultaneously reducing serious patient skin tears and patients being dropped."

Just as California's SEIU nurses have lead the charge for safer working conditions and patient care, it was all of us linking arm-in-arm to get ourselves heard on nurse-to-patient unbalanced ratios. 


Hundreds of SEIU nurses react to a nation about to code

The following email from Dian Palmer, RN and President the SEIU Nurse Alliance, was sent out toe member activists shortly after they participated in an awesome day of action on Capitol Hill

When more than 400 nurses traveled to Washington, DC and joined in our “Code Blue”advocacy day and action last month, we helped protect quality healthcare for our patients through the power of our voices and our profession.

While we all know that what America needs right now is more good jobs, not more healthcare cuts, leaders in Washington were focused on one thing – cutting the essential healthcare services that seniors, people with disabilities and children depend upon. Thanks to you, Medicaid and Medicare were spared even deeper, more devastating cuts under the “super-committee” process.

Together, you and your fellow nurses took a stand, and reminded members of Congress and working Americans just what was at stake.  And you made the difference.  Our country's healthcare system has been spared what would have been the worst cuts in history.

We still have a real fight ahead to ensure affordable, quality healthcare for everyone in America, but this moment marks a tremendous step in the right direction.

On behalf of the Nurse Alliance Executive Committee, we offer our deepest thanks and appreciation for your commitment to your patients and to nursing.

Code Blue coverage on SEIU’s blog is here.

Finally, in an effort to keep all SEIU Nurse Sisters and Brothers in the loop, please help me invite them to sign up for our Roundup newsletter with our online tools. 

In Unity,


PHNs strategize for the future at historic conference

More than 100 PHNs participated in an historic conference on April 15 in San Francisco. The gathering, organized by the SEIU Nurse Alliance of California and hosted by SEIU Local 1021, was the first ever statewide meeting held solely for Public Health Nurses.

SEIU PHNs spent the day discussing issues and challenges that are unique to their profession, hearing updates on how the new federal healthcare reform legislation could impact their positions, and networking with other PHNs who have been under fire from budget cuts happening on the county and city level.

Lively participation was the theme of the day, as many in attendance expressed their excitement and relief to finally be having discussions about issues specific to their jobs. PHNs participated from the counties of San Francisco, Alameda, Napa, Marin, Sonoma, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Kern, San Benito, Los Angeles, Riverside, and the City of Berkeley.


The Healthcare Law And Its Implementation

 Dr. Toni Lewis, MD, head of SEIU’s Healthcare Division, and member of the SEIU Executive Board, started the day off by recounting the victories and challenges involved in the new federal healthcare reform legislation. Dr. Lewis mentioned that while positive changes are already taking place, still half of all Americans don’t understand the new law. Because nurses are consistently ranked at the top of the professions trusted by the general public, Dr. Lewis told the audience that it’s up to PHNs and RNs to share our stories of how our patients are benefitting from the care we provide and from changes brought by the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Lewis also explained the five key areas where the Affordable Care  will expand and protect the public healthcare system. 


  1. Access: The healthcare law expands coverage for millions of Americans, creates a benefit floor, strengthens primary care, and greatly increases funds to community health centers.

  2. Prevention: The law provides some free preventive services in both Medicare and private insurance, including testing for certain diseases.

  3. Coordination of care: The Affordable Care Act establishes a system that allows for greatly improved coordination between services.

  4. Maternal and child care: Access to coverage of these services is expanded and certain programs are strengthened with considerable respect to prevention, wellness, education and health promotion practices.

  5. HIV/AIDS: Today, nearly 30% of people living with HIV are not covered by insurance. The Affordable Care Act will have a huge impact on people living with HIV/AIDs through stopping insurance discrimination and increasing access to coverage and providing better care.

SEIU PHNs expressed general support for the changes, but also expressed frustration that even though many of the new programs could and should be described as public health programs, PHNs are not the ones developing them--and may not even necessarily be the ones delivering the services created, unless we struggle to get a stronger voice at the table to ensure that it happens.

The group then went around the room county by county and heard report backs of what programs are in place, and how many PHN positions have been retained in the face of our ongoing statewide budget crisis. The news was as expected: every county represented has had cuts, some smaller and some on a larger scale. The report backs revealed another big issue: many counties are deciding which programs to cut and which ones to keep based on what they can get funded. PHNs at the conference strongly expressed that it is imperative that public programs need to be population based, and should be decided on by assessments of what each county truly needs and how to make it happen.

At the end of a fulfilling day, many PHNs felt that this meeting, though ground breaking, should only be the first of many to come, and that another gathering was needed in the future to keep the momentum going. Several PHNs volunteered to be on a committee that would look into what steps will be needed to focus the energy at the conference into making positive changes for PHNs during this difficult and challenging time in California history.


SEIU nurse tells OSHA what's what on its 40th anniversary

Cathy Stoddart, RN, BSN, Chair of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare Policy and Politics Committee and a staff nurse at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA, took part in an informative and distinguished panel at the Center for American Progress (CAP) last week, which held an event honoring the 40-year anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The event aired on C-SPAN, which you can watch here.

The facilitator of the panel told Cathy that he didn't think that many people generally think of healthcare workers when it comes to OSHA and dangers on the job. He asked Cathy to explain what nurses do face, and how OSHA might have helped them over the years.

Cathy told the audience that by the early 1980s, more than 17,000 healthcare workers contracted hepatitis-B and about 300 died each year, a phenomena she said is often referred to as the "healthcare workers' disease." Cathy said that because of inadvertent needle sticks, healthcare workers were contracting hepatitis-B from contact with the needles and blood. "In the early 1980s I worked with a nurse who had been exposed to hepatitis-B through an accidental needle stick," said Cathy. "She died later that year."

Think about Cathy's story and multiply it by 300--that is a lot of healthcare workers killed on the job.

SEIU members led the charge in a five year-long campaign to achieve passage of the 1991 OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard.

"Today," Cathy added, "as a direct result of our actions, hepatitis-B cases among healthcare workers plummeted by 97% and deaths are rare."

Cathy said that early in her career it was very rare for nurses to wear gloves. Gloves were only ever used for surgery and sterile dressing changes. Whereas patients used to be afraid if they saw their nurse wearing gloves, "now they are scared if they see us without them!"

"Back then the nurses carried needles on a tray or in a foam block, today needle boxes are in every room, if we have to use them at all. We now have safe needles and entire needle systems for our protection." Cathy stressed the fortunate and unusual relationship the union has with the Allegheny management. Their joint labor-management committee--Life Safety--sits down as equal partners to negotiate a number of issues. "My hospital does the right thing in being committed with the union to have a safe hospital," said Cathy.

As a side note: we learned that Allegheny's management was excited that Cathy was asked to be part of this panel. The hospital WANTED Cathy to share how both labor and management are working together to make a safe hospital for both its workers and its patients.

The CAP panelists were asked about some of the safety and health challenges that still remain in their workplace. Cathy mentioned safe patient handling, airborne infectious disease precautions, and then pointed out the need for standards around workplace violence. "Nurses are not just in hospitals. We are in prisons, mental institutions, nursing homes, and now, in the communities." She said that we need to work at creating standards that protect workers from violence on the job.

Cathy and the other panelists stressed that their union brings them a voice in the workplace The message we took away from this is that although we have challenges ahead of us, as we educate ourselves on the issues, we can push each day to make the needed changes happen.

SEIU Healthcare 1199 NW took Nurses Week to the airwaves!


In May of each year nurses around the country celebrate National Nurses Week. While we generally celebrate our profession and our accomplishments all year round, it is during this one week that the rest of the country focuses in on us as well. This year, SEIU Healthcare 1199 NW took the initiative to raise awareness to educate everyday folks about our staffing issues. To that end, the local produced a fantastic radio ad to get the word out.  Take a minute to read through this article--the link to the actual radio spot is included in the piece. 

We know that having the right number of nurses means better care for our patients. We don’t want our patients to have to wait for medicines or treatment, and we don’t want to have so many patients that mistakes are more likely to happen.

We’re celebrating nurse and healthcare worker week May 6-12 by raising awareness of the important work we do to keep patients safe. Our union contract means we have a voice at the table to improve staffing. 12,000 SEIU members are bargaining this spring to make patient care improvements, including proposals to enforce our staffing plans in our contracts with levels of nursing care that will keep patients safe. By standing together we’ve already made patient safety improvements with safe patient lifting equipment and safe needle protections.

Listen for the radio spots on Seattle radio stations that tell the public we’re the nurses and caregivers you count on, and we want to make sure there are enough nurses and caregivers for you. 

Play the radio spot.



SEIU Nurses Online in 2012

SEIU Nurses are using the Internet more and more to communicate with one another

What should have made it to the Year in Review but didn't? Please do not hesitate in sending me 2011 accomplishments we need to share with everyone. Feel free to contact me with other stories, story ideas, pictures, videos -- and really anything else we need to get in the Roundup. And while I have the floor -- PLEASE Click here to share the Roundup so that we keep one another up to speed with what all we're up to. 

Interested in blogging for SEIU.org in the future? Please let me know. 
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