As COVID-19 continued its march across the country, Federation of Nurses/UFT members and school nurses on Nov. 20 attended the UFT’s 41st annual Professional Issues Conference, held virtually for the first time, and drew praise for their courage and leadership during the pandemic.
Reflecting on the role nurses have played in battling the coronavirus, UFT Vice President Anne Goldman, the head of the Federation of Nurses/UFT and the conference organizer, thanked her members for their hard work and dedication.
“At the moment we’re hurting because our patient load is increasing,” said Goldman, with COVID and the flu on the rise. “But we’re strong and we will comfort patients and each other and we will conquer as we always do.”
Goldman encouraged nurses to suggest solutions to problems, whether with staffing or personal protective equipment, and inform their union representatives. “Each step of the way, when there was no road map,” she said, nurses’ advocacy was critical to their success.
Goldman also praised UFT President Michael Mulgrew for his work on behalf of Federation of Nurses members throughout the pandemic, including reaching out to the CEOs of their hospitals and demanding their needs be met. “His ability to help us in getting PPE and meals, during very dark, lonely and frightening days, was amazing and it mattered,” she said.
Mulgrew told the nurses they are his heroes. “All of the work you’re doing — this city, this country — no one can thank you enough,” he said. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, with vaccines on the horizon, Mulgrew said, but getting through the winter safely will be an enormous challenge.
“This union will always be there for all of us,” he said. “We will get to the other side by caring for each other.”
The conference featured four 90-minute workshops: COVID-19 and Your Immune System; From Burnout to Resilience; De-escalation of Violence in the Workplace; and Diabetes and COVID-19. The workshops provided nurses with continuing education hours for their professional license requirements.
Jesse Dwyer, a critical care nurse at Staten Island University Hospital South, found the focus on COVID-19 appropriate, and said the information on the new vaccines and about the virus and diabetes was especially useful. “I’m in the ICU, so a lot of it was relevant for my work,” she said.
Angela Maloney works from home as a nurse case manager for the Visiting Nurse Service CHOICE Managed Long Term Care program. She was attending her 16th conference and said this year’s virtual event was “a whole new world.” Maloney appreciated that the chat function enabled attendees to ask questions during each workshop. Moderators relayed the questions to the speakers and robust conversation followed, she said.
Rebecca Garrabrant, a recovery room nurse at NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn, said the conference was “seamless, with no technical glitches.” She found the mindfulness workshop to be especially helpful.
“It gave us some useful tools to deal with the stress and burnout many of us have been experiencing,” she said. “A lot of us are still processing things that happened,” she added, such as how recovery areas were repurposed to provide critical care to COVID-19 patients on ventilators.
Garrabrant said her experience during the pandemic had reaffirmed for her the importance of union membership.
“The union was there to support us, whether it was bringing us meals or never letting us go without proper PPE,” she said. “It’s devastating to hear there are a lot of places throughout the country that don’t have what they need. Having a union made this possible for us.”