Celebrating history, determining a vision for the future
AFT convention delegates passed a number of healthcare resolutions that will make a difference in the lives of patients and their families, as well as our members. The policymaking resolutions were approved unanimously at the AFT convention in Minneapolis July 17-21. In the coming months and years, the AFT's nurses and health professionals will be working to bring to life the vision of the each of these resolutions.
During her keynote address on July 18, AFT President Randi Weingarten hailed the 100-year-old union as a vehicle empowering our more than 1.6 million workers at the bargaining table and the ballot box.
"Our founders couldn't have imagined that their vision would grow from eight locals to 3,500 locals, a union of more than 1.6 million members," Weingarten remarked. She announced the addition of more than 36,000 members to the AFT's ranks since 2014—growth that puts the union at a record-high membership of 1,637,412 workers.
"When unions are strong, we set a standard that helps all workers," Weingarten said. "Union members earn higher wages and are more likely to have pensions and employer-provided health benefits. One of the strongest predictors of how well your children will do economically," she continued, "is the percentage of union members in your community."
Among other things, AFT delegates resolved to support legislation and policy solutions to address the high costs of prescription drugs, abusive medical billing and increased healthcare consolidation.
"As a nurse, I've seen firsthand what high drug prices do to patients," said Dawnette McCloud, a member of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. "They are often forced to choose between their medication and food." McCloud also pointed to drug shortages that are hurting patients. "The drugs that we have used for years are no longer available. These are lifesaving drugs. We need to ensure that patients have access to the drugs they need and that drug prices are affordable."
Lisa D'Abrosca (pictured above), a member of AFT Connecticut, shared concern over her facility, Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London, Conn., being taken over by a corporation. "We don’t want a conglomerate making decisions about community care."
"We have seen incredible increases in corporate takeovers of our hospitals," said Judy Huntington, a member of the Washington State Nurses Association. "The hospitals are making money but can't provide safe staffing for more quality care. It's time to put patients before profits."
Fighting medical debt
At the AFT Nurses and Health Professionals divisional meeting on July 18, delegates heard from patient advocate Heather Block (pictured above). Block shared the story of her fight to pay medical debt—and still get the care she needs to battle cancer—with AFT nurses and health professionals. When Block’s cancer returned after being in remission, she said, she broke down. “It was not because of the cancer, but because of the money.” Although she is on Medicare, Block still must pay 20 percent of her medical bills. She has outlived her original diagnosis but says, “Mine is not a feel-good story. My drugs are keeping me alive, but I’m going through my savings at an alarming rate to pay for them. It’s a double-edged sword.”
Making a difference
Yoseñio Lewis (pictured above) was the guest speaker at the AFT's Nurses and Health Professionals Breakfast on July 19. Lewis has spent most of his life in search of homeostasis—an internal balance in the face of external change. Lewis is a female-to-male transsexual and social justice activist. At the breakfast, he shared his quest to channel his frustration over his treatment as a transsexual into positive action. “The desire for balance is a battle, because I thrive in the uncomfortable. It’s an opportunity for me to make a difference in others’ lives,” Lewis said. And over the years, he has made a difference by educating people, especially those in healthcare, about transgender people, with a goal of dispelling misinformation and fear. “We can make lifesaving changes simply by changing the way those in healthcare interact with people like me. The more you allow people to stand up for themselves and advocate for themselves, the more change will happen.”
The AFT Everyday Hero award for healthcare members went to Roger Woods (pictured above), an emergency room nurse at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. His work led him to pursue first-responder training through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He used what he learned to train his colleagues on how to use personal protective equipment when the Ebola crisis hit in the United States. More recently, Woods became a certified clinical hypnotist; he is also known as the “patient whisperer,” using his skills to calm anxious patients and family members. "I've been surrounded by positive successful people who have shared their stories," said Woods in accepting his award. "We need to remember we never do this alone. Everyone in this room is a success."
[Adrienne Coles; photos by Michael Campbell, Russ Curtis and Rob Levine.]