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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

May 13th, 2010 5:54 PM

Nurses Scrub the Place Down in DC

Sometimes, Washington, DC, can be a pretty stuffy place. It’s not just all the business suits and the clickety-clack of high-heels down the marble hallways as staffers rush to and fro doing the bidding of their Congressional members. It’s not just the daily drone of anemic cries for civility from both sides of the political aisle in the midst of economic recession, planet endangering climate change, the latest corporate contamination in the Gulf or on Wall Street or in our healthcare system. It’s just stuffy here much of the time. The people are often as dead serious as the issues.

But this week, during National Nurses Week, the stuffiness lifted. A rush of light, fresh, clean and energizing energy came to DC clad in 1,000 bright red scrubs worn by the registered nurses of National Nurses United and their affiliate unions, the California Nurses Association, National Nurses Organizing Committee, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, United American Nurses, and the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.  

The NNU nurses across the country now number 155,000, and this was their annual assembly. Among the states represented in DC this week were California, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Georgia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Vermont, Kansas, Colorado, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, and Vermont.

So mighty are these nurses who advocate for patients all across the country and every single day in their professional lives that they commanded the attention of a cabinet member – Sec. of Labor Hilda Solis – and 11 members of the United State Congress as speakers in just under 48 hours on the ground.  By my calculations, that’s more than 2 percent of the sitting 111th Congress and 8 percent of the President’s cabinet who decided – and rightfully so – that the nation’s registered nurses matter enough that when they come to town, attention must be paid.

A Senate hearing was held on Tuesday on the nurses’ safe patient handling legislation, S. 1788, the Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2009. Nurses too often get hurt trying to help patients when there are no safe procedures set in law. This law would go a long way toward changing that. They also fanned out and visited more than 100 Congressional offices.

But it wasn’t just the hearing or the speeches or the glorious sight of 1,000-plus red scrub-clad nurses marching from Union Station toward the Capitol that reverberated through the city. The NNU nurses brought with them clarity of purpose and a sense of justice that rarely resonates in DC above the din of what is often a dour democracy at best.

Dignity heals. Nurses bring dignity with them wherever they go – to a patient’s bedside and even to this the nation’s capital. Trusted. Tested. These nurses are the voices of those who cannot be heard and they are the backbone and courage for those who will not be denied.

I know how hard it is for many of them to travel here to DC. I know the city and travel within its limits can be daunting. But I sure hope the nurses keep coming to DC to scrub the place down every once in a while and leave behind the clean and clear message that good and decent people deserve good and decent government.

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