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As Nurses Week begins, a look back on what a year it’s been


A look back at all the incredible work SEIU nurses have done throughout the last year.

By: Dian Palmer, RN
May 06, 2016

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As National Nurse’s Week kicks off, I think back on all the incredible work SEIU nurses have done throughout the last year. Whether talking to voters about protecting the Affordable Care Act or advocating for stronger workplace violence prevention, SEIU nurses were strongest when we stood together.

That was apparent when 300 nurse leaders gathered in Las Vegas in October for our biennial conference: "Nurse Leadership for Healthcare Quality and Justice.” We shared best practices and heard from New York Times contributor, Theresa Brown, RN, and Deputy U.S. Surgeon General Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, RN, on the importance of using our trusted voice to advance standards of care in our facilities and communities. Nurses from upstate New York to Los Angeles, from acute care to public health, shared some amazing stories about how and why they became advocates in our field. It was truly inspiring and I felt so proud to be a part of the SEIU Nurse Alliance.

At the conference and at many of the Fight for $15 days of actions throughout the year, we heard from fast-food, homecare, child care, nursing home and other low-wage workers about the struggles they face trying to make ends meet.  

Delores Prescott, a registered nurse at Swedish-Providence in Seattle and member of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, described why she supports the Fight for $15 workers: "Nurses do all we can for our patients while they're in the hospital, but too often our patients don't have the financial means to manage their illnesses at home and wind up back in the hospital. That's why nurses like me are joining the Fight for $15—we see that families everywhere need $15 an hour to stay healthy and healthcare workers need $15 to support their families while caring for others."

But we didn’t stop there. Nurses continued to advocate for on-the-job safety and workplace violence prevention standards in our states, cities and workplaces. Vicki Gonzalez, an RN at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and Local 1991 member, has been working to keep patients safe and protect colleagues from injury on the job. Gonzalez is now the head of the Safe Patient Handling project at Jackson Health System, which is installing 220 ceiling lifts and training nurses and hospital workers to use them.

SEIU Local 121 nurses and other members of the SEIU Nurse Alliance of California led a campaign to win an enforceable comprehensive workplace violence prevention standard for healthcare. This simply would not have happened if nurses did not speak up about the prevailing problem.

As we learned last year in King v. Burwell, the case that put millions of families at risk of losing affordable healthcare coverage, there is so much at stake when extremists use the U.S. Supreme Court for political gain.

Earlier this year, justices heard arguments in two cases, Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt and Zubik vs. Burwell, that could threaten access to women’s healthcare. SEIU 121RN member Nina Wells authored an op-ed that outlined her concerns about employer interference in private healthcare decisions if the justices rule for Zubik, a case that challenges the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Denelle Weller, a registered nurse and member of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, penned an op-ed about what’s at stake in Whole Woman’s Health, a case that seeks to shut down clinics that provide reproductive health services, including abortion. In the meantime, Britney Bowen and Chris Sagon from Local 199 in Iowa visited Washington, D.C., to press for Congress to do its job by holding hearings and scheduling a vote for Judge Merrick Garland’s candidacy for the U.S. Supreme Court.

When we weren’t weighing in on Supreme Court cases, nurses were in states that have held primaries and caucuses. We’ve gone door-to-door to talk to voters about casting a ballot for candidates that will preserve and protect the Affordable Care Act. From Hillary Clinton on down the ticket, nurses are making sure it’s not just our voice that will make a difference; it’s our vote. Talking to voters will not stop until November when I hope we will see the first woman voted into the presidency.

It was a busy year. I have shared a lot of thoughts with you but as we kick off National Nurse’s week by remembering the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, she leaves these fitting words: “I think one's feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into actions which bring results.”

She would be proud of the SEIU Nurse Alliance for our actions and our results.