Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Nurses Take DC 2018

photo credit: David Miller

Last week, I attended and spoke at the Nurses Take DC rally for Nurse:Patient Ratios Now in Washington DC April 25-26. The purpose of the event is to bring nurses together to support federal legislation: Senate Bill 1063 and House Bill 2392: The Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act of 2017.

Why do I post about nursing and healthcare on my running blog? Because it is an integral part of my life. Running is what keeps me going, it provides my energy and recharges me for the daily work I do, especially as a solo community figure working directly with people who are going through the trials of the healthcare system.

All of my readers, no matter how fit and healthy, are equally vulnerable to an encounter with the healthcare system, whether through illness, injury, accident, or a family member's experience.

Every person is a potential patient, and it's important to understand what nurses do, the importance of nurses, and why nurses are taking to grassroots advocacy to further our agenda through the legislative process.

For too long, nurses have been deferential to a healthcare system that has treated them as second class and given us less respect when we can not be replaced- the healthcare system would collapse if we were not here. But those in power talk out of both sides of their mouth, while they talk about a nursing shortage, they have not shown the moral or political will to do anything about it.

Nurses' top priority, above all, everything we do, number one on the list, always and forever, is patient safety. You can give all the medicine in the world and use all the technology you want, but nurses are there to ensure that the patient is not harmed in the process of administering that medicine and coming through the healthcare facility where they are treated without harm coming to them.

No matter how sophisticated and cutting-edge the interventions are, no matter how advanced the medications are, there is always, always, always risk involved-potential for adverse effects, mistakes in the form of human, mechanical, or technological error, and someone has to look out for the patient, providing checks on the system from admission to discharge from the facility.

About six months ago I was contacted by one of the organizers, someone I knew only through social media. I was surprised and honored to be asked, as most of my advocacy work has been in the form of writing about nurse working conditions and their impact on the patient experience. I discussed it extensively in my book, Navigating the C, as it applies to cancer care, but the premise is applicable to all of healthcare.

After catching the shuttle to the Denver airport at 2:30 am on Wednesday, I arrived in Washington late in the afternoon, the day before the rally. It was raining. My hotel was the headquarters for the event. That evening I an education offering, called “Ascend to Political Nurse Advocacy”, presented by Pamela Robbins, MSN, RN.

Pam has long been active in political advocacy for nurses and quickly drew the audience in with her explanation of the similarities between the nursing process and the political process, to make it relatable to all of us. It was a useful toolkit all packed into less than two hours. I met many people I've only talked with o social media, including my friend Andrew Lopez, who has been instrumental in encouraging my progress from hospital staff nurse to nurse entrepreneur and advocate.

The first night I was exhausted from traveling and went to bed early. I was still catching up on my sleep from the Palmer Lake 24 Hour, and three hours of sleep before traveling added to my sleep debt. I knew I would see everyone at the rally the next day.

Thursday was a beautiful clear day, perfect for the rally. I shared an Uber with three other nurses to the rally. We were dropped off right smack in front of the Rayburn House Office building- where the House of Representatives offices are. Yes, where the power, money, and influence happens. There was a long line that stretched all the way down the street of mostly white men in suits, with name tags indicating the entity they represented, obviously industry lobbyists waiting to exert influence.

My immediate gut reaction was resentment- I wanted to tell every one of those suits how their money-backed influence was ruining democracy, but I was quickly distracted by my companions who pointed out the capitol building across the street and the fact that we were there on a beautiful spring day that you couldn’t have asked to beat.
I quickly forgot about the lobbyists as we crossed over to Capitol Hill. It was breathtaking, seeing the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool, and the white columns and dome of the legislative seat of power of our country.
There were about two dozen speakers, including legislators themselves- Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Luis Gutierrez from Illinois both made appearances and spoke.
Dr. Laura Gasparis Vonfrolio was the keynote speaker, she's been involved in the movement for more than 20 years and reminded us to raise hell. “If you don’t fight for what you want, don’t complain about your situation!”
As the speakers took the podium, their tone ranged from powerful and inspirational to exhausted and shell-shocked. The stories of some of the nurses who had been fired, harassed, and threatened for speaking out were both maddening and heartbreaking. It still strikes me as beyond the pale that administrators should be so fearful of nurses who choose to speak their minds, but it happens all the time. And that is why we’re here, to support each other so no one has to be fearful.

I felt that my speech went well, I included some takeaways for nurses to go back home for effecting change in their own communities. I will discuss those in the next blogpost. If you want to listen to my speech, it is here.

Nurse staffing ratios are critical, but there needs to be regulation of the hospital industry, because without mandates, they will find workarounds, and nurses will continue to find themselves understaffed and compromising patient safety.

I remember 2012, when some well-staffed hospitals, in the middle of merger mania, experienced notable changes in their attitude toward nursing. Where the independent hospital might have had top-notch staffing and support, as well as respect for nurses, nearly overnight, nurses were told the staffing ratios were changing, their benefits would dwindle, and older nurses started disappearing left and right. Nurses were told point-blank, if you don’t like it, you can leave. I left. Why should I work in a place where I’m not respected or valued?

As time went on, it became apparent to nurses that they were making good on their threats, and no longer valued us for what we brought to the workplace. They only wanted us to fill the staffing matrix, keep our mouths shut, smile, and nod as they nickeled and dimed our benefits and job satisfaction away from us.

And we are always told it’s our fault if we can’t multitask, that we can’t be in two places at once, or remember everything because we are doing the work of two nurses.

Nurses are asking for national legislation to hold decision-makers in the industry accountable, so that our patients are not in harm’s way when we care for them in a facility that is supposed to be helping them.

After the rally was over, Pam and I went to lunch at Union Station, which is an amazing building, where the Amtrak trains come through and the architecture is mind-blowing...we headed back to the hotel via the Metro, which I learned was not a good means of transportation for me. All the lurching and stopping left me seriously nauseated!

Back at the hotel, we had an after party with nurse humorist Terry Foster, who is hilarious. It was a chance to talk further with some of the organizers and discuss future action, as well as relaxing and getting to know a few people better.

Friday it rained again, and I had some time in the morning before I had to catch my flight, so I went to get Starbucks and then walked along the Mt. Vernon bike trail along the Potomac.
I posted a couple of videos on social media about my thoughts and experiences, and said goodbye to the people who were still around in the lobby of the hotel.
I headed back to the airport to fly home with a sense of empowerment, a tool kit, some great advice, and feeling much less alone. For me, the best part of attending the rally was the new friends I made- colleagues who share my passion for making change, ready to work hard and not give up, willing to go back home and spread the word, bring more nurses along next year, and help others lose their fear.

I learned about turning your concerns into political action and how nurses can effect change in our profession. Despite what you might think about political divisions, apathy and fear are truly our biggest enemies. Here is a link to the House Bill 2392 sponsored by Rep. Schakowsky.

We can use technology to our advantage when talking to legislators, because there is new app called Flo's Whistle that helps report unsafe staffing conditions by legislative district. Nurses can show their representatives in Congress what is going on in their districts and they'll have data to back it up.

My next post will be about Takeaways from my speech to the DC rally, to keep nurses motivated and focused forward all year. For more information about the Nurses Take DC movement, visit

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