Health professionals learn to use their voice, workplace power
The last time AFT’s nurses and health professionals got together, they resolved to focus their efforts on reshaping the U.S. healthcare system to meet the needs of their communities and to put patients first. This past spring, they took the first step toward that goal at the AFT Nurses and Health Professionals annual professional issues conference and labor academy. The conference, held in Chicago May 20-22, was filled with opportunities for participants to learn how to use their voice and workplace power to build the strength necessary to protect patients.
“Hospitals and healthcare facilities are changing,” AFT President Randi Weingarten, told participants in her keynote address on the first day of the conference. “They are aggregating their power, and they no longer care about the communities in which they operate. The result has been that those in charge have tried to exploit the goodness of your collective hearts,” she said.
“We have got to fight back,” Weingarten told participants. To do that, the focus has to be on connecting with community, engaging members and providing solution-driven unionism, Weingarten said. “I’m not asking for everyone to be an activist but to be engaged in the work of the union because when you have thousands at a rally, or signing petitions or sitting at the bargaining table, it changes behavior. If we work collectively, we will regain and reclaim the promise of America.”
Finding solutions to the challenge of keeping patient care and quality the priority when it comes to healthcare was at the heart of a panel discussion by advocates and providers at the conference. The thoughtful and free-flowing exchange of ideas prompted a number of questions from attendees who wanted to know what they could do to challenge the system.
Meg Gaines, director of the Center for Patient Partnership, encouraged the nurses and health professionals to engage patients in their work. “Nurses, like all professionals, need to learn how to empower their patients. Leave people with the ability to advocate for themselves.” Gaines shared how her own experience with the healthcare system led her to train others how to advocate for patients.
“You have been incredibly helpful to patients; those are the people you must tap to help you,” she said.
Fred Hyde, a healthcare consultant and professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said the union’s campaign to put patients before profits is a worthy one. “The moral standard sets the right tone for your efforts because putting the personal in front of the professional in healthcare has become an epidemic.”
At the end of the session, participants took the day’s message out to the streets of Chicago. The nurses and health professionals converged briefly on Millennium Park, chanting “Patients not profits , we need time to care! Patients not profits, we need staffing that’s fair!”