National Nurses United

Registered Nurse October 2009

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Profile_FINAL 11/24/09 5:56 PM Page 19 job at a burger joint after accepting a bet fr a neighbor. She stood in line September 2001, Koelle joined a group of nurses who marched into om with 3,200 other people in the high desert for just 32 positions but Koelle Gov. Davis' office and presented CNA's proposal for minimum RN, got one of them. It turns out that the restaurant observed the applicants to-patient ratios. Though the law had passed in 1999, the Department while they waited in line and picked the ones who were friendliest and of Health Services had not yet established specific numerical ratios. most outgoing. "I'd never flipped burgers in my life," Koelle said. "But CNA had exhaustively researched 21.7 million discharge records of California hospital patients as a basis for its ratios proposal. they wanted people who would talk to people, and I can talk to people." On that same day, more than 2,000 nurses from around the state ralThat ability to communicate is part of what mak Koelle a natural es when it comes to nursing. "It makes people at ease if someone's com- lied at the state Capitol. "It was the highlight of my life," said Koelle. fortable talking," she said. "They feel they're in good hands. People "After working for so long to get the ratios on board, it was so exciting . forget that touching a patient and sitting with a patient is pr obably to see all of the nurses together and united as one No matter where we worked, we all deal with the same more important than all the issues. All of our issues are one." tasks we have to do." In addition to fighting for propThe first hospital that Koelle "After working for so long to get the er care at the bedside, registered worked at out of nursing school ratios on board, it was so exciting to see nurses need to turn their attention was St. Bernardine. She has now all of the nurses together and united to fighting for their patients being worked there for 15 years. When as one. No matter where we worked, able to access healthcare, period. she started, she made $ 16 per we all deal with the same issues. "Single-payer is very important for hour, four dollars mor e than All of our issues are one." all of us," said Koelle. "We as bedwhen she w as a gr ocery stor e side nurses see the injustice that's checker. After a year and a half of floating around St. Bernardine, she chose the cardiac unit. "It used to going on. Decisions are made based on whether they have insurance or scare me to death," she said. "Life goes from alive to dead in an instant. don't have insurance. I don't believe anyone's life is more important than We're able to get in ther and bring a patient back if it's in God's will that anyone else's life. I think that's why we're seeing a sicker population out e there, because people are waiting until they're on death's doorstep before the patient will come back. Once I got my handle on it, I enjoyed it." Koelle eventually became charge nurse for the telemetry unit. But coming in. We're trying to bring them back from the grave. Is that cost because she had been a supervisor in the gr ocery business, Koelle had effective, or not? We're in the healthcare field to help people and the w ay realized she did not want to be in management. "I told m yself when I the system is set up now I don't think it's helping people." n started with nursing, I want to be a nurse on the floor and that's where I want to stay," she said. "I like it at the bedside. I do my job for the Sarah E. Clark is an Oakland-based writer and political activist. thank you from my patients, not from management." Work was not without problems, though. Understaffing and unsafe floating were just two issues nurses aimed to stop. In addition, when Catholic Healthcare West bought out St. Bernardine and other previously independent hospitals during the 1990s, Koelle's workplace became more corporate and the nurses realized they had less influence on their managers. Then, in February 2001, CNA and Catholic Healthcare West Name: Carol Koelle, RN signed a historic accord which established a process for CNA to Facility: St. Bernardine Medical Center organize unrepresented nurses in California, Arizona, and Nevada. Unit: Telemetry unit Just 10 days after the agreement, more than 30 percent of nurses at Nursing for: 15 years St. Bernardine indicated their desire for CNA representation. Under On CNA/NNOC board since: 2007 the terms of the agreement, once the 30 percent threshold was met, Sign: Cancer CNA could then meet with RNs in public areas free from employer Nursing pet peeve: When people say, interference, and nurses could not be pulled a way from the hospital "It's not my patient." bedside to attend mandatory anti-union meetings. Favorite work snack: Popcorn At the end of March, St. Bernardine nurses voted by a whopping 78 Latest work accomplishment: Putting percent to join CNA. "It was the biggest thrill of my life to walk in together a Morale Committee there. We got our vote, I was so happy," said Koelle of the election. Color of favorite scrubs: Purple The huge margin at St. Bernardine kicked off an unprecedented Hobbies: Traveling three-week organizing sweep at CHW hospitals in California, with Favorite musician: Céline Dion eight facilities voting to affiliate with CNA. The election victories Latest book read: Chicken Soup for the Nurse's were considered an achievement unparalleled in union organizing at Soul: 101 Stories to Celebrate, Honor and Inspire the the time. "That's what I tell people when they sa they're afraid," said y Nursing Profession Koelle. "Don't be afraid. Stand up for what you want." She also noted Secret talent unrelated to nursing: Interior design that since unionizing, St. Bernardine RNs have doubled their wages. RNs have benefited from better patient care standards, too. In Profile OCTOBER 2009 W W W. C A L N U R S E S . O R G REGISTERED NURSE 19

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