The News RNs Need: May 18th Nurse Alliance Roundup

Hello Sisters and Brothers,

As the Roundup begins to be read by more and more nurses each week, I’ve begun to get some incredible feedback. However, one particular message that keeps coming back to me is that not many first-time readers of the Roundup have any idea who I am, who Valerie Tate is — or why the Nurse Alliance Roundup is so important.

In light of this, I thought I’d kick-off this May 18th edition of the Roundup by telling you a bit more about the good folks who bring you this newsletter.

Key Contributors

SEIUNurse_ValerieTate copy.jpgTo begin: Valerie Tate, RN, is the Nurse Alliance Coordinator for the National Nurse Alliance, based out of the union’s headquarters in Washington, DC. She is a dedicated advocate for patients and nurses and has been a fearless labor leader and the glue uniting the SEIU Nurse Alliance for many years. Valerie is both a mentor and a wonderful friend to me, and I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to do this work with her.

My name is Richard Negri. My official title is New Media Campaign Manager, SEIU Healthcare Division. That fancy title, to me, boils down to “organizer” — I just happen to use the tools of the Internet to organize, mobilize and educate our members as best I can. I work in the New Media Department at the International, which is a group comprised of online organizers, digital strategists, graphic artists and web programmers.

RichardNegri.jpgWhile I have a long history in the labor movement, many of my colleagues come from political campaigns, online journalism and non-profit advocacy. We have different backgrounds and skill sets, but what we have in common is that we know first hand the power of using the Internet to organize working people. (For an example of just one of the many ways we like to use new media at SEIU, please see the  photo on the left. *Can you pick me–or my iPad–out of this rally crowd?)

As a result of the terrible accident Valerie was in early this year–and her subsequent uphill climb to reach a full and complete recovery–I’ve stepped in to lend a hand in helping to keep the momentum of her Nurse Alliance work moving forward. This realm of work includes the Nurse Alliance Roundup, among many things, as well as assisting with workplace violence programs, safe patient handling work, nurse-to-patient ratios and the sharing of OSHA regulation materials with our members to help educate them about the rights and health and safety protections the law is supposed to guarantee them at work.

I don’t do the Roundup alone. Kathleen E. Magaro, RNC, MPA / Nurse Consultant for SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania reads every word I write to (or about) SEIU nurses to make sure a union organizer is making sense to a nurse. Bill Borwegen and Mark Catlin of the SEIU Safety and Health Department also work with me on a regular basis to be certain that anything OSHA-related we’re sharing with members is not only correct, but also up-to-date. Finally, I am blessed to work with Dora Chen, an attorney here at the International who has the responsibility of reading everything when it’s all done – she’s the one who helps me make sure my I’s are dotted and my T’s are crossed. With this incredible “dream team” behind me, I can safely move Valerie’s work (and mine).

Who We Are

721biggroupphoto copy.jpgThe Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare is comprised of more than 85,000 Registered Nurses in 21 states. We are committed to the vision of a strong and unified voice for nurses and quality affordable healthcare for all. Whether you’re being introduced to this newsletter by way of your own state-based Nurse Alliance or we’ve met in person in the amazing amount of travel I’ve been doing lately, the Roundup is intended for all of us. That is why you’ll always see included in each and every one of these newsletters a link that allows you to forward the Roundup to other SEIU Nurses so that they can sign-up to receive the Roundup by email directly.

As the Roundup is ours, I should be hearing from you all, right? I do urge all of you to either send in your stories, comments, story suggestions – anything at all – to me here. ( If you’re a Roundup reader who is joining us for the first time or are relatively new to this list, please feel free to email in a hello to your fellow RN sisters and brothers. Send your message to and I will make sure it is published in the next issue of the Roundup.

Update on Valerie Tate

Valerie Tate’s update (did I just make a rhyme?) below comes directly from her and is posted on the Caring Bridge website.

Hello Dear Friends,

I came home on May 3 to a beautiful day, a lovely house, a happy dog, love and support from my wonderful mom, and the amazing Gregory. I’m beginning to feel the healing nature of it all.

Still, nothing’s perfect. My queasy tummy when sitting up continues. I have back pain and my right leg is numb, especially in my foot. My left leg is longer than my right leaving me lopsided when I walk. I’m way too thin–137 pounds (160 is my preferred weight at 6 feet tall) and doing my best to take in lots of nourishing food. My endurance is limited. On my best day I walked for 20 minutes with the walker around the gym. Yesterday, I walked three houses down the sidewalk and back and was done. A five hour nap later, I could stand at the kitchen counter for five minutes at a time. Sheesh. Progress, not perfection.

Today I went to outpatient physical therapy. It’s a good place and the therapist and therapy aides are excellent. That’s it for now. Thanks as always for your kindnesses. I know it’s your loving thoughts and prayers that have brought me so far.

Love & Light, Valerie

April 2011 Public Health Nurse Conference

When I was invited to be a part of the first-ever Public Health Nurse Conference hosted by the SEIU Nurse Alliance of California, I jumped on the opportunity. Andrew Hagelshaw, Communications Director for Nurse Alliance of California, wrote the following article about the conference.

PHNs Strategize for the Future at Historic Conference

First-ever SEIU PHN Conference was full of energy, engagement

Over 100 PHNs participated in a historic conference on April 15th in San Francisco. The gathering, organized by the SEIU Nurse Alliance of CA and hosted by Local 1021, was the first-ever statewide meeting held solely for Public Health Nurses.

SEIU PHNs spent the day discussing issues and challenges that are unique to their profession, hearing updates on how the new federal healthcare reform legislation could impact their positions, and networking with other PHNs who have been under fire from budget cuts happening on the county and city level.

Lively participation was the theme of the day, as many in attendance expressed their excitement and relief to finally be having discussions about issues specific to their jobs. PHNs participated from the California counties of San Francisco, Alameda, Napa, Marin, Sonoma, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Kern, San Benito, Los Angeles, Riverside, and the City of Berkeley.

The Healthcare Law And Its Implementation

Dr Toni Lewis talking web.jpgL. Toni Lewis, MD, head of SEIU’s Healthcare Division and member of the SEIU Executive Board, started the day off at the PHN Conference by recounting some of the victories and the challenges involved in the implementation of the new federal healthcare legislation. Dr. Lewis mentioned that while positive changes are already taking place, roughly half of all Americans still don’t understand the new law.

Dr. Lewis explained that because the general public consistently ranks nursing as one of their most trusted professions, it’s up to PHNs and RNs to share our stories of how our patients are benefitting from the care we provide and from changes brought by the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Lewis also explained five key areas where the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will expand and protect the public health care system

  1. Access: The healthcare law expands coverage for millions of Americans, creates a benefit floor, strengthens primary care, and greatly increases funds to community health centers.
  2. Prevention: The law provides some free preventive services in both Medicare and private insurance, including testing for certain diseases.
  3. Coordination of care: The Affordable Care Act establishes a system that allows for greatly improved coordination between services.
  4. Maternal and child care: Access to coverage of these services is expanded and certain programs are strengthened with considerable respect to prevention, wellness, education and health promotion practices.
  5. HIV/AIDS: Today, nearly 30% of people living with HIV are not covered by insurance. The Affordable Care Act will have a huge impact on people living with HIV/AIDs through stopping insurance discrimination and increasing access to coverage and providing better care.

SEIU PHNs expressed general support for the changes, as well as frustration that even though many of the new programs could and should be described as public health programs, PHNs are not the ones developing them–and may not even necessarily be the ones delivering the services created, unless we struggle to get a stronger voice at the table to ensure that it happens.

The group then went around the room county by county and heard report-backs of what programs are currently in place, and how many PHN positions have been retained in the face of California’s ongoing statewide budget crisis. The news was as expected: every county represented has had cuts, some smaller and some on a larger scale. The report backs revealed another big issue: many counties are deciding which programs to cut and which ones to keep based on what they can get funded.

PHNs at the conference strongly expressed that it is imperative that public programs be population-based, and also that these decisions should heavily factor in assessments of what each county truly needs and how to make those changes happen. Visit SEIU’s healthcare law hub for more information about the Affordable Care Act.

Our Biggest Challenges

Together, PHNs identified the biggest problems we face as a group:

  • A lack of voice in defining the role of PHNs, which is changing and being defined more and more by others outside the profession;
  • Staffing, as many counties are asking staff to do more with less and increasing workloads, dragging down morale as many PHNs can’t do the work up to the standards we set for ourselves;
  • Funding, as services are reduced, entire programs lost, and wages and benefits dropped due to budget cuts; and
  • The practice of saving money by hiring other staff to do the work that PHNs should be doing.

After identifying and discussing issues, PHNs spent the afternoon learning about tools to help change things for the better as we move forward.

Reflecting on Past Wins

  • Lorraine Thiebaud, RN, described how as SEIU nurses we were able to unite and win the fights around Title 22/nurse-to-patient ratios in the 1990’s.
  • Richard Negri from SEIU’s new media department (that’s me!) spoke about using technology to help nurses organize and get the word out.
  • Sara Nichols from SEIU CA State Council described the legislative process in Sacramento and how SEIU participates to get bills passed, and told us of nurse related legislation we’re currently pursuing in 2011.
  • Rebecca King-Morrow, RN, PHN, presented about how to write letters to the editor.
  • Jeanette Conley, RN, PHN, talked to the group about recognizing and de-escalating threats of violence in the workplace.

At the end of a fulfilling day, many PHNs felt that this meeting, while ground breaking, should only be the first of many to come, and that another gathering was needed in the future to keep the momentum going. Several PHNs volunteered to be on a committee that would look into what steps will be needed to focus the energy at the conference into making positive changes for PHNs during this difficult and challenging time in California history.

Notable Conference Quotes

Catherine Farnham, PHN, SEIU Local 521:

Unlike working in an acute care setting, PHNs have a different scope of work. We take care of broad based populations. Our populations are mobile, so we need to coordinate with our peers in other counties. And in order to take care of our clients, we need to come together and take care of each other. As PHNs, we can help each other out with ideas and resources, and through networking in meetings like this we can learn things to better serve our communities.

Lisa Leighton, Field Maternal/Child Health PHN, SEIU Local 1021:

I’ve been a PHN since 1989 and this is the first time a meeting like this has ever happened. Hopefully we’ll be doing this at least once a year from now on. It’s more important now than ever, as PHNs have been decimated in recent years. Now public policy is moving more towards prevention, but the policy makers aren’t getting that PHNs already do that as part of our jobs.

For 100 years we had population-based prevention programs, but over the years we’ve become marginalized and left out of the conversation. United, we can get to a place where we have concrete solutions that enable us to become part of the solution. But we can’t have the conversation with policy makers unless we first have those conversations with ourselves. Many of us feel isolated now, so to be part of a community of PHNs is very meaningful.

Barbara Cayon, PHN, Riverside County Child Protective Services, SEIU Local 721:

This is the first PHN gathering that I’ve heard about, and I’ve been with our union for 12 years. We are a smaller minority than RNs, and we have issues specific to our workplaces. We share common problems, we need to develop common resolutions. It’s important to have unity and network with other PHNs- to learn what others do in their programs, what funding sources might be available, and what we might be able to initiate in our communities.


A Nurses’ Point Of View: “My Most Rewarding Day On The Job”

Hospital.jpgI am a strong advocate for getting nurses to speak up and get heard … There are both horror stories and, stories that only a nurse (or someone who hangs out with a lot of nurses), can appreciate. In my never-ending effort to get nurses to write in, I began challenging folks one by one.

That’s where Nina Wells RN, MSN, PHN Chapter President at St John’s, member of Local Union 121RN came into the picture. I sent her a note that simply read, “Write me a story about one of the most rewarding days you ever had at the job – and what could have made it better. No right or wrong, you will not be tested.”

Here is the email I got back in response:


This is request isn’t an easy one!

There have been so many rewarding days throughout my profession. I believe it is a blessing to be able to assist people.

One of the most rewarding events was when my patient going into a radiology procedure asked me to pray with her because she was she fearful of the results. We prayed, we cried and in the end she had peace about her situation. She knew the results of this test were not good going into the test.

After the exam she hugged me and thanked me for taking the time to sit with her and listen. Unfortunately she died 4 months after her exam.

This is only one of the many examples of the rewards this job has brought me. Nothing went wrong this day. However, most of the time we (the bedside RN) won’t have the time to sit and listen. Patients want to have their concerns validated, but rarely get the opportunity for it to happen.


How amazing must it have been for this patient to have been given the opportunity to sit with Nina as she was transitioning? I wonder two things:

  1. How many of you have had a similar fantastic situation and
  2. What do we need to do to get more staff so that every patient can get the same loving treatment this patient got from Nina?

I’d love to hear your thoughts – you can write me here (

National Nurses Week

Celebrating The Difference We Make In Our Patients’ Lives

Do you know Carmen Morales? She is an RN, MSN, FNP based in California; a former member of the Board of Registered Nurses and Vice President of SEIU Local 521.

20110509feature-nurses-week copy.jpgI reached out to Carmen with an email that read, “As you know, Nurses Week is around the corner. How about contributing a guest editorial during this week celebrating the work you do, why you found nursing to be your calling, and any challenges or victories you’d like to share.”

Here is the email I got back:

If you ask 100 different registered nurses about why they chose a career in nursing and what they love about about being a nurse, you’d get 100 different answers. The diversity of the opportunity and the career paths that nursing offers is one of the things that makes being an RN so exciting.

But, what is the most exciting and rewarding is that we get to make a difference in patient’s lives. Every single moment we’re on the job, we’re helping people at the most vulnerable and critical time in their lives.

We’re patient advocates. No other member of the healthcare team appreciate patient care or has the responsibility to advocate for the patient as we do. Sometimes, because of this responsibility, we tend to be the only ones who fight for what is best for the patients.

This Nurses Week, let’s remember that we’re in this fight together and strive be nurse advocates as well by taking care of each other. By doing so, we will be making a difference for our profession and AND our patients.

Thank you to the 85,000 SEIU Nurses whose commitment to patient care truly makes a difference!

National Nurses Week’s Nurses Week Tribute To You

At the International Union we set up a webpage to pay tribute to our nurses in honor of National Nurses Week, which was May 6th – 12th.

You can take a look at how the page came out by visiting

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder And Other Taboos

A nurse in Iowa recently sent me an email about the conditions at her facility, the work that needs to be done, and then mentioned that there is a quiet – or – unspoken issue with PTSD. Her note came at an intensely opportune time — I was soon to be headed to a conference to hear Laurie Barkin, RN, MS, CNS discuss that very issue. [] Laurie had recently finished writing a book called “The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit.” Before I got my signed copy, I knew that Kathy Hughes, RN, CCRN already the book and told me how fantastic of a read it is. So, I asked her to write a review for the Roundup.

Book Review: The Comfort Garden: Tales from Trauma Unit

By Katherine Hughes, RN, CCRN

ComfortGarden.jpg“I’ve never written a book review and have never met a real life author of a book before. But after having read this book and then having the privilege of meeting Laurie, and then having her speak at our annual NA of CA Legislative Conference, writing this review became much easier. I met Laurie before I finished reading her book and I got to finish the book actually picturing her in the scenes, a real gift.

“Most book reviews seem very general and could be written for just about any book. This book becomes very personal as you read it, it tells a story about a nurse caring for patients and as you read it, the story becomes about you. It is our story for every nurse, everywhere.

“Every nurse needs to read this book, I promise you will find yourself in the pages somewhere. This is a book about all of us and the patients we carry with us until the end. It touches you in places that have never seen the light of day. The stories that you don’t tell your family and non-nurse friends because it will either gross them out or you worry that it will be too disturbing a story to lay on someone you care about. So you carry the stories, the names and faces with you, always.

“This book gives voice to the trauma we as nurses and health care providers experience and validates all those crazy things nurses do to cope. Laurie made me smile and cry and sometimes both at once. As a trauma nurse of almost 15 years I envy her, as a Psych nurse, because she was able to learn the stories behind the physical injuries that I was trained to repair. It made me realize just how much nurses like Laurie are needed in all of our hospitals and challenges me to take up another cause.

“While this book gives voice to what nurses endure while caring for their patients and families it also encourages us to take of ourselves and more importantly gives us permission to do just that. Find your own comfort garden, sing, dance, attack plum trees, whatever we do to find release and peace. Laurie told me through this book, as she told all her patients, ‘talk about what happened (at work, this shift) so it does not become unspeakable. So our feelings are allowed to course through our body instead of being lodged within.’

“Thank you, Laurie. By writing your story your wrote a story about all nurses, all of us.”

Purchase a copy of Laurie’s book for yourself:

Q&A Break

So, I have a few questions:

  1. As we now know the staffing issues of Public Health Nurses, and their concern of not being able to care for their communities without appropriate funding — what can we, as a union, do about that?
  2. Nina’s story of sitting with a patient during the most transitioning time of her life, and then knowing how few patients get that kind of attention – what can we, as a union, do about that?
  3. When Carmen’s Nurse’s Week letter was read, did the thought occur that we should be celebrating ourselves and each other every day of the year, and not just for a week in the year? How might we do that?
  4. To hear that there is a book covering one of the big (and silent) taboos — that of post traumatic stress disorders — are you moved to share your story around the same issue?


A Few Parting Words

Before I go, I’d like to share one last thought with you: One voice is fantastic, but 85,000 voices is a power that cannot be reckoned with … so please, get yourselves heard. Together we can make changes — for our patients, ourselves, our communities. We can tell Nina’s story over and over but until it is really heard and understood, no one will advocate for increased staffing or more preventative measures to protect against workplace violence.

So, here’s my request to you: tell us your story.

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