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Where the Front Line Meets the Bottom Line

With a growing number of hospitals consolidating and focused solely on profit, it’s up to the labor movement and our community allies to reclaim the promise of high quality healthcare. This responsibility is one embraced by the nurses and caregivers from hospitals in Danbury, Farmington, New London, Norwich, Windham and New Milford and Hartford Public Schools who attended the conference.
 
“People are getting squeezed, so we have to take on bigger issues,” AFT President Randi Weingarten on April 20 told union members during the opening session.
 
One way AFT’s national Nurses and Health Professionals (NHP) division is taking on big issues is through Patients Before Profits, a campaign designed to expose what is happening in our system. 
 
“By calling companies out for their behavior, we are changing what’s happening in healthcare,” Weingarten said.
 
In fact, more than 100 union members spent a day lobbying on Capitol Hill, where they made more than 200 visits to lawmakers to discuss a number of issues. These included safe patient handling, nurse staffing ratios, the rising costs of prescription drugs, the Zika virus, the Flint water crisis and the opioid abuse epidemic.
 
Connecticut and New Jersey union members (pictured above) also met with officials from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to discuss rising levels of workplace violence in the industry.
 
Click here for our previous report on efforts to protect healthcare workers on the job.
 
AFT Connecticut Executive Vice President John Brady introduced our state’s two federal lawmakers who spoke to conference attendees, U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Joe Courtney.
 
“I stand with you in the fight for transparency, accountability and quality in our healthcare system,” U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro told participants during a plenary session. “You are a powerful voice for patients and this community. I thank you so much for being allies in the fight,” she added.
 
Click here for Brady’s report-back from the conference at his personal blog.
 
The event also featured a panel focused on what the healthcare system of the future might look like. Columbia University School of Public Health’s Dr. Fred Hyde, George Washington University Health Workforce Institute Co-Director Patricia Pittman and Washington, D.C. Healthcare Advocates President Melanie Gobourne offered diverse perspectives.
 
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) acting Deputy Director Mary Wakefield spoke, too, and focused on how her agency is working toward a better healthcare system for all Americans.
 
“We are working to solve challenges that impact communities, and we feel fortunate to be in partnership with AFT,” said Wakefield. “Your work is essential to our strategy for improving healthcare,” she said.
 
Stephen Lerner, a fellow at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, discussed how members can focus on negotiating for the common good. The idea is to bargain for the “bigger picture,” he said. For example, when nurses negotiate successfully for improved nurse staffing ratios in contracts, it will improve not only working conditions but also the quality of patient care.
 
“The conditions that are throttling us are creating an opportunity for unions to do something spectacular,” said Lerner.
 
Click here to learn more about the Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor.
 
The three-day conference offered dozens of workshops that gave participants strategies they could take home to begin to change their healthcare systems and engage their communities. Workshop topics ranged from how to partner with the community to meet their health needs, to how to prevent workplace violence, to how quality measurements work and why they matter.
 
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