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We Are a Team: A Nurse’s Appreciation of Allied Health Workers
La Grande isn’t the middle of nowhere, but it’s definitely rural. Located in the beautiful Grande Ronde Valley in northeastern Oregon, the city is home to Grande Ronde Hospital, where Cheryl Cosgrove, RN, MSN, CCRN, has worked for decades. She says the critical access hospital’s small size and rural setting mean nurses are tightly integrated with nursing assistants, respiratory therapists (RTs), physical therapists (PTs), pharmacists, and other allied health workers. “We are a huge team,” she says. “The allied health professionals, they have nursing’s back.”

Six of the hospital’s 25 beds are in the intensive care/coronary care unit (ICU/CCU) where Cheryl works. On any given day, the nurses and allied health workers on the ICU/CCU team may care for patients from infant through 100 years old. “We wear a lot of hats,” she says. “We’re not compartmentalized, where you get to do one thing and you do it well, and that’s all you do.” Team members rely on each other to meet the needs of every patient.

La Grande is a long way from San Jose, Calif., where Cheryl began her health care career. At age 16, she was hired at a 400-bed nursing home as a certified nursing assistant (CNA). At the time she had no formal training: “I didn’t even know what a bedside commode was.” But she found she had joined a skilled health care team whose shared goal was providing excellent patient care. Her coworkers took her under their wing and trained her to read what her patients needed and “get a million tasks done” as they dealt with chronic understaffing. “It was other CNAs that trained me up,” she says, “and they were phenomenal.”

Cheryl was one of the few white CNAs at the nursing home. “I had a lot of African American and Hispanic coworkers, and that were older than me,” she says. “A lot of single women that had rough lives.” It was a powerful experience for a “naïve 16-year-old white girl.” She thinks about these coworkers when considering the potential Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) bylaws change to allow nurses to unionize alongside allied health workers. The lack of resources to pursue an RN is not an indication of an allied health worker’s expertise in their role or dedication to excellent patient care. “I know what it’s like to try to be a CNA and save up money and work hard and get your RN,” she says. “The CNAs I worked with were single moms … their money was going to feed their children. Their money wasn’t going to pay for their education for themselves.”

And she points out many allied health workers love the roles they’re in and excel in them. “They’re true professionals,” she says. She wholeheartedly supports the bylaws change, and hopes it will strengthen health care teams at non-hospital facilities like nursing homes and clinics as they work to remove barriers to providing quality patient care. At smaller facilities, there may be too few nurses to negotiate a contract by themselves, but if the whole team could bargain together, it could be game-changing.

Cheryl is grateful to have been surrounded by outstanding allied health workers throughout her career. Every day they demonstrate their skill, experience, and continued desire to learn as they care for patients alongside their nurse colleagues. “They are our team, and they should be our team under the ONA umbrella,” she says. “I think we should open our doors.”

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