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On the front line of patient care

New York Teacher

Several Federation of Nurses/UFT members recently went to Texas to assist with recovery work in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Relieving local hospital workers whose own lives were thrown into turmoil by the hurricane, these New York nurses continued lifesaving efforts by staffing operating rooms and providing care and treatments for hospital patients [see story on page 4].

During times of disaster, the passion and strength of union members is boundless as we mobilize, organize rescue teams and participate in this critical work. But health care workers in New York City are themselves everyday heroes as they sustain our hospitals, home care and health care in our schools and clinics. Federation of Nurses/UFT members are engaged in a daily struggle to maintain excellence and individualized care for each person.

Today, the patient-care experience — often gauged by answers on patient-
satisfaction surveys — can affect hospital reimbursement. Yet to achieve successful patient-care outcomes, health care professionals must have the appropriate tools to tailor their care to reach each individual in a manner that is sensitive to their learning style, socioeconomic status, cultural background, age, educational level and health status. The patient-experience scores on these surveys may not accurately convey the whole story.

In the health care industry, time is a precious commodity so longer hospital stays are discouraged. But let’s consider the example of two individuals — a 20-year-old who has an active lifestyle and a 50-year-old who has a sedentary lifestyle — both of whom sustain multiple traumatic injuries in an accident. Should the health care professional treating the older patient receive a lower patient-care rating because that patient takes longer to make progress in physical therapy? If a patient gives a low score about how well pain was controlled while in the hospital, should the nurse receive a lower score on the patient-satisfaction survey? What if the patient received a painful treatment that required being alert and awake?

Because it is important that nurses be treated fairly, the Federation of Nurses/UFT has worked with management to improve the patient-care surveys and patient-care experience programs. All the while, health care professionals remain one of the staunchest advocates for patients. We recognize the need to enhance the culture of caring and to involve patients and their significant others in decisions about their care. In addition, the union has forged partnerships with management to ensure that health care workers assume a welcoming and personal manner whenever caring for their patients.

By better explaining hospital procedures to patients and quickly addressing their concerns, patients feel better about their hospital experience and are more optimistic about healing. We have learned to focus on challenges in a particular nursing-care unit if scores dip. Collectively, those changes have resulted in higher patient-experience scores and a more therapeutic environment in hospitals where nurses belong to the Federation of Nurses/UFT.

It is interesting to note the patient-satisfaction scores in hospitals with unionized workers exceed all nonunion hospitals in the New York City health care system. The rate of improvement in those scores is also higher in hospitals where Federation of Nurses/UFT members work.

We have learned through this experience that systems designed to measure patient-care outcomes must be carefully monitored for accuracy and they must be revised to reflect real work situations. The UFT’s advocacy, leadership and partnership have provided the necessary framework for Federation of Nurses/UFT members to succeed and to improve patient care.

Because they belong to a union, these health care professionals have had meaningful input into the process. They recognize they can be powerful advocates for their patients and themselves without fear of retribution because they are UFT members.

The Federation of Nurses/UFT continues to welcome new members into its ranks as we organize new groups of workers. We are proud to say we are able to make a difference each day in the lives of our patients because we have a voice and we are part of a union.

Related Topics: VPerspective