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No matter what, nurses can’t be — and won’t be — stopped


Nurses Week may be over, but our fight for justice will never cease

By: Martha Baker, RN, president, SEIU 1991, and chair, Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare
May 13, 2020

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Martha Baker, RN, (middle) is the president of SEIU 1991 and chair of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare. With a career spanning four decades, Ms. Baker is the founding nurse manager of the Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital, one of the largest public hospitals in the nation.

Let’s get right to it — We. Need. Nurses. If that wasn’t already clear before COVID-19, then it certainly is now. 

Nurses Week comes to a close every year on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. Let Ms. Nightingale’s and SEIU nurses’ words remind us all that nurses should be celebrated each and every day.

“How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.”

No one becomes a nurse thinking it will be easy. We know all too well that there is no such thing as a “typical day” for nurses. Each day, we never know what to expect on the floor. Nurses are pillars of leadership, stability and compassion during our country’s darkest hours. Whether we’re facing a natural disaster, an act of violence or war, a global pandemic or just another day in our units, nurses have but one priority: to help others in their times of need. We are not afraid.

“The very first requirement of a hospital is that it should do the sick no harm.”

We are in the business of saving lives, not judging others. A patient is a patient — no matter their age, race, religion, gender and sexual identity, country of origin or socioeconomic status — and every patient deserves quality, equal care. 

For decades, SEIU nurses have taken the lead in raising standards for our patients, our families, our profession and our communities. Notably, we were the trusted voices demanding quality, affordable healthcare for all long before the Affordable Care Act became law. After nearly four years of the Trump administration’s repeated (and failed) attempts to rip healthcare away from millions of people, nurses have never backed down. 

“Nursing is a progressive art such that to stand still is to go backwards.”

Nurses run toward the unknown, not away from it. For us, standing in the wings is not an option. Instead, we are the engineers of patient-centered solutions and the architects of change in the healthcare system. 

Because we are trusted professionals, our patients and communities expect us to be there when they need us. We’ve taken steps to ensure that frontline healthcare workers have the necessary safeguards and training to reduce exposure, prevent needless workplace violence, and prepare for disasters and disease outbreaks, like Ebola and AIDS. United in our unions, we’ve won strong contracts and have worked together with our employers to implement quality initiatives that lead to better outcomes for our patients and greater job satisfaction for nurses and others, and financial stability for our hospitals. 

The past four years have made it abundantly clear that we must get the right people elected. Elections mean the difference between Medicaid expansion or not. It’s the difference in who will cast a deciding vote on the Supreme Court. It’s the difference between putting corporate interests over the everyday needs of working people. And for far too many people, it’s the difference between life or death. 

Who knows how long the COVID-19 pandemic will grip the nation? But out of all that uncertainty, one thing is clear: nurses will be there every step of the way. However, we can’t do our jobs without the support of our government. The Trump administration’s senseless response to this pandemic has cost thousands of lives and has subjected millions of people to contracting or spreading the virus. We risk our lives every day to save the lives of others.

Any relief package must include aggressive, immediate measures to ensure clean, safe, and sanitary work environments and protection from infection during this health crisis, with continuing access to personal protective equipment and training, now and in the future. Our leaders must secure the health, safety and long-term economic well-being of nurses and every working person across America — regardless of where they work, their race, their immigration status or current healthcare coverage. 

As Nurses Week comes to a close, I ask President Trump to listen to nurses. Trust nurses. Believe nurses. It’s going to take more than just a tweet.