National Nurses United

California Nurse magazine April 2006

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A P R I L 2 0 0 6 W W W . C A L N U R S E S . O R G C A L I F O R N I A N U R S E 19 nurse in Indiana in 1966. She earned $2 an hour. The nurses wore white uniform dresses and white caps over hair that had to be kept off their shoulders in a net. They were expected to stand up and offer their chairs if a doctor entered the room, and also to carry doctors' charts for them as they made rounds. Pataki, who was outspoken and feminist, resented these rules and always managed to avoid them by ducking into patients' rooms. Though the nurse-to-patient ratios weren't always better back then, the acuities of the patients were much, much lower. Care was more basic. Few patients had IVs, and everyone stayed in the hospital for longer periods. A heart attack patient may have stayed for several weeks. Pataki remembers having enough time to sit down with one very sick gentleman to play a round of cards and write a letter for him. Hospitals were often independent and community-based, and she believed the institutions felt a greater sense of obligation then to the staff, patients, and public. All that started changing in the '80s and accelerated in the mid to late '90s. By this time, Pataki was working at Mercy General in ICU. The hospital, like many others, redesigned RN jobs. In addi- tion to their RN duties, the hospital wanted the nurses to admit, do basic social work, physical therapy assessment, clean rooms, scrub toilets, and gather financial and insurance information on patients. "Oh my glory," said Pataki. "That was the thing that tipped us. I'm a nurse. I'm here to help you, not gather information on what you can pay." When the hospital wanted all the nurses to reinterview for their jobs and support the redesign, the nurses had had enough. They con- tacted CNA and started organizing a union. Within a year, the RNs held and won the election. Pataki, who helped the organizing drive and served on the negotiating team, found that CNA was a perfect outlet for her political activism. She joined Mercy's PPC, and was glad to talk to the media, doing radio or newspaper interviews, as a CNA RN. After a brief period on the board in 2003, she ran again and was elected in 2005. Now that her four children are grown and her husband approach- es retirement, Pataki plans to spend even more time "saving the coun- try" through CNA. "I got pulled in because I realized you can't be a nurse and not take care of the community, the state, the country," she said. "Nurses are beginning to be aware that if we're going to practice nursing, we have to affect the Legislature and affect politics or we're not going to provide the care that people need." The hardest challenge is to convince fellow nurses that their par- ticipation and unity is powerful. Pataki says she tries to set an exam- ple in the workplace and extend from there. A month ago, her hospital wanted RNs to sign memos agreeing that they had received their lunch breaks as long as they took a lunch in the first 10 hours. This was tantamount to giving up their first lunch break. The nurses were upset, but thought they had little choice but to sign. "I said, Whoa, don't sign it," Pataki remembers. "We can get together and turn this around." And they did. "When you challenge something through CNA and win, it gives people the courage to speak up." ■ Lucia Hwang is editor of California Nurse. Profile Name: Elizabeth Pataki Facility: Mercy General Hospital campus of Mercy Sacramento Unit: Cardiac support Nursing for: 46 years On CNA board since: 2005 Sign: Sagittarius Pet nursing peeve: "People who complain and complain and complain about issues or a staff member and do nothing about it. And when an opportunity does come to speak up, they just sit there." Favorite work snack: Medjool dates Latest work accomplishment: Arranging with the man- ager to hold unit meetings after shift so the nurses can actually sit and reach resolution on nursing care issues instead of having to run off mid shift. Color of favorite scrubs: Burgundy Favorite hobby: Making music—playing piano, singing Favorite composer: Chopin Favorite music: Wagner operas, especially the Ring Cycle Latest book read: Don't Think of an Elephant, by George Lakoff and The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell Secret talent unrelated to nursing: Baking. She took two years of cake decorating classes and once make a three-tier wedding cake as homework.

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