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New Roles and New Opportunities

New Roles and New Opportunities

Oregon Nurse Online Summer 2013 Edition:
A message from ONA's Board President, Steve Rooney, RN

What a season of change! As you know, earlier this year, the National Federation of Nurses (NFN) and its member state associations, including the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA), affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
In May, at the biennial NFN Assembly, I was elected President of the NFN. At the AFT Membership Assembly in June, I was appointed as a Vice-President of AFT, one of 43 VPs on the AFT Executive Council, joining two other nurses who sit on this Executive Council.
The changes have been astounding and challenging. I have been a nurse at the bedside for over 30 years and an activist with my professional association and union, ONA, for nearly that long. These roles have prepared me well for the new positions I have the honor of serving, but I still have a lot to learn as I adapt and learn how best to serve everyone I represent.

The NFN, governed by a board of directors representing the four state nurses associations, Ohio, Montana, Oregon and Washington, will be meeting in August to review our Strategic Plan. Many changes in the NFN have taken place, including significantly decreasing our dues in order to minimize the financial impact our national affiliation with AFT has on our members. Of course, this has an impact on what NFN can do as an organization.

The NFN is actively engaged with our new partners at AFT to find the best way to integrate our strengths. Staff from the state associations and AFT have been engaged in strategy sessions around growth through organizing. In Oregon, we have had success in organizing. AFT recognizes our abilities and past successes and we look to move forward together on future campaigns. With shared resources, we increase our chance of conducting successful campaigns.

If we increase the number of RNs represented by ONA, we will be better able to fight the corporatization of our health care institutions. Most of us have seen acute care facilities focusing on cutting costs at the bedside, while increasing the number of managers and rapidly escalating administrative salaries. Increasing union density, along with greater community involvement, is crucial to stopping this trend. If the trend continues, it will inevitably lead to poorer outcomes and greater health care costs.

Hospital administrators have taken up the call to integrate “best practices” into their facilities, except when it comes to staffing. The data is irrefutable that appropriate staffing levels lead to reduced costs and better outcomes, including reducing deaths. Yet, across the state and across the country, hospital administrations are cutting bedside care and spending resources elsewhere.

We have a staffing law in Oregon that has had some success, but ultimately, it has fallen short of providing staff nurses the authority and resources they need to consistently obtain adequate staff. ANA, NFN, and AFT are all supporting national staffing legislation that is based on Oregon law, but includes enhancements that would give bedside RNs more authority to determine what constitutes appropriate staffing. Members of ONA, along with our national organizations, have been to Capitol Hill twice in the last few months to lobby for this legislation.

While national staffing legislation is unlikely to pass soon, having bills written and introduced in the United States Congress allows us to begin the process of educating our representatives, senators and government officials. This type of legislation takes time.

However, engaging in these conversations can have an impact now, as regulations are being written for the Affordable Care Act. During our visit in June, ONA members and ANA members from other states informed our representatives of a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rule about to go into effect that would require a physician’s order to dispense durable medical equipment and how this rule would harm patients and increase costs. Before the end of the day, we learned that the new rule had been postponed.

My new roles have provided me an opportunity to explore these issues with a wide variety of people. I have had the privilege to meet with nurses from all across the country in various types of workplaces, some of Oregon’s U.S. representatives and senators, and senior labor leaders at AFT. I am truly honored, and sometimes awe-struck, to be involved in these discussions and decisions. I look forward to the exciting opportunities and challenges ahead and serving nurses in Oregon and across the country the best I can. 

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