Read Martha’s National Nurse Alliance Conference speech

Martha Baker’s remarks to the October 2019 National Nurse Alliance Conference


Good afternoon, SEIU nurses!

Thank you to Dolores and Carol the 30,000 members of SEIU 1199 NW for welcoming us to the great state of Washington.

This conference, “Nurses Leading the Change for Our Patients and Communities,” promises to be a jam-packed few days to learn, to inspire, and to reconnect with our nurse colleagues and our profession.

Like many professional nurse conferences, we will earn continuing education contact hours through presentations from nationally acclaimed speakers, engaging panel discussions, and a choice of breakout sessions. But we know that’s not enough. We can’t have a few hundred SEIU nurse activists from all around the country just sitting in a hotel for a few days, can we? We will be putting our activism into practice to support the 1199NW members at Swedish Hospital who are joining with community members to demand the highest standards for healthcare workers and patients alike.

Since I joined with other nurses at Jackson Health System in Miami to unite for a stronger voice for staff nurses 28 years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and serve with many of the nurses who just stood up. Many of those currently lead the National Nurse Alliance – some join me on the International Executive Board and the Healthcare Division Leadership Board.

Can we all give a special thanks to Diane Sosne as the host president and long-term nurse leader?

I would also like to thank the members of the conference planning committee who helped develop the conference theme, identify speakers, and help shape the overall experience of the next few days. 

And a special thanks to Cathy Hughes, the executive director of the Nurse Alliance of California for providing the CEUs for this conference.

And let’s not forget to thank Liz Royal, our coordinator of the National Nurse Alliance.

As nurses, we are the natural leaders of the healthcare team. Patients and families look to us to coordinate with physicians, other healthcare professionals and all caregivers. It’s this special role that has earned us trust and respect.

In fact, nurses have ranked number one for 17 consecutive years of Gallup’s poll of how Americans view and trust 20 major professions. The only year that we did not hold the top spot in the last 20 years was after 9/11 when firefighters were credited for their heroic and ethical standards.

This presents both an opportunity and an obligation for us, as nurses, to use our credible voice -at work, within our union, at our statehouses, and in our communities.

But too often we get too busy, from the time we hear report to the time we’re finishing up our shift – only to go home to attend to our own personal and family demands -­ and our voices sit idle too long in many other important arenas.

We must not forget that our education and professional experience places us in leadership positions. We need to seize the moments we have to educate, to advocate and to lead. As strategic as we are within our day-to-day work, whether it’s taking charge on a unit, or managing a challenging patient assignment, or leading a multi-disciplinary team, we must do the same at the bargaining table, with key decision makers and in our communities to advance standards of care.

When I speak to our new nurses at Jackson about joining together in our union I make the point if you’re building a bridge across the bay, you want an engineer at the table. If you want to improve the quality of healthcare in this country, you need nurses at the table.

By the way Japan and Germany are ranked #1 and #2 in healthcare quality outcomes in the world. Who knows the ranking of the  U.S.

We’re actually number 37 or 38…

I think we need some nurses at that table.

For decades, SEIU nurses have taken the lead in raising standards for our patients, our families, our profession and our communities. Notably, we were the trusted voices demanding quality, affordable healthcare for all long before the Affordable Care Act became law. We never left that post when it came time to educate our patients and neighbors about the benefits of the law —   as Executive Vice President Leslie Frane will talk about in-depth tomorrow — we will continue to work to expand coverage, even when extremists are determined to take it away.

We’ve also taken steps to ensure that frontline healthcare workers have the necessary safeguards and training to reduce exposure to bloodborne pathogens, prevent needless workplace violence, and prepare for natural disasters and disease outbreaks, like Ebola.

It’s SEIU nurses like Mary Magee, Susanna Kielly and Sasha Cuttler who, along with other SEIU nurses on San Francisco General’s 5B unit, showed the true essence of nursing and leadership when caring for the first patients with AIDS. We’ll learn more from Susanna and Sasha about their experience this evening at our own private screening of the “5B” documentary.

I’m proud of SEIU nurses, including my sisters and brothers at Local 1991, who have come together when our hospitals were in the red and critical services to our communities were threatened. During the recession, at risk of losing our public hospital, we led a campaign to “Save Jackson.” We worked together with hospital administrators to share what was at stake with our public officials and helped mobilize patients, families and partners to show their support. Proudly today, Jackson, the third largest public system in the country, is alive, and well and growing.

Because we are trusted professionals, our patients and communities expect us to be there when they need us. That’s why we’ve all been fighting to win contracts, pass legislation that ensures safer staffing and that mandatory overtime is the exception and not the rule. We’ve also worked together with our employers to implement quality initiatives that are not only more efficient but lead to better outcomes for our patients and greater job satisfaction for nurses and others, and financial stability for our hospitals.

How many of you have partnerships with your management team? Five years ago we had about 3 or 4. Today, we have over 20.

These are just some of the examples of how SEIU nurses have taken the lead over the years. But we have to do more. As important as it is to talk about health and safety initiatives and the need for safe staffing ratios, we must also talk about the injustices that are directly hurting our patients and our communities.

If there has ever been a doubt, it should be abundantly clear that we must get the right people elected. Elections mean the difference between Medicaid expansion or not. It’s the difference in who will cast a deciding vote on the Supreme Court. It’s the difference between putting corporate interests over the everyday needs of working people.

Being on the frontlines of care has to be more than at our hospitals or workplaces. Just as we’re quick to respond when a natural disaster hits, we must also call out what’s threatening our climate. We must mend the wounds and fear of those affected by gun violence and also demand!f common sense gun reform. We must continue to help push the big boulder of healthcare reform so all who live in this country have access to high quality affordable healthcare. And as we seek out opportunities to help families who are being separated at the border, as Roxette Villegas and Arcelia Lopez will share with us on Thursday, we must also call out the injustices Black and brown families are experiencing each and every day all over this country.

My challenge to you: use your professional nurse voice more frequently than you do now. When I was first talked into running for President of SEIU Local 1991 more than 26 years ago, I never dreamed that I’d still be president today and helping to lead the Nurse Alliance of SEIU. I bet my friend, Cathy Glasson, never thought she’d run for Governor of the state of Iowa, but she did and has helped shift the agenda for working people and healthcare standards, not just in Iowa but throughout the Midwest.

Sisters and brothers, I am not expecting all of you to run for elected office at your locals or in your states, but I do encourage you to think beyond what you normally do.

Over the course of the next few days we’ll learn more about how our nurse colleagues are engaging in various justice fights and using the latest innovations to connect with each other and optimize our professional practice.

But this conference isn’t just about learning. It’s about taking action. As you listen to the speakers, and re-connect with friends and colleagues, consider what inspires you and how you can do more to lead the change our patients and our communities are counting on.

I’ll be checking in periodically, but don’t hesitate to share how #SEIUNursesLead on your own social media platforms.

There’s a critical need to strategically use our credible nurse voices, so let’s get started!

Thank you.

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