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Why SEIU Nurses Fight


This coverage sponsored by the SEIU.

If you haven't been following the SEIU nurse lock-out story in Las Vegas, it's time you got up to speed. Because this isn't just about Las Vegas. It is about the fight for accessible healthcare in this country that has the patient's best interests at its core. It's also about supporting the caregivers who get caught up in tragedy because for profit hospitals have the bottom line in focus before patients. But the bottom line isn't about unions or for profit hospitals. It's about allowing nurses to do their jobs, which is much more than showing up and punching a time clock. It may sound hokey, but for nurses, caring for patients is a calling. Anything that gets in their way is not only counter-productive, but it can actually costs lives. That is just what might have happened recently on one November day.

The good news is that the public outcry of support and the progressive blogosphere's wholehearted backing of the SEIU nurses in the Valley Health System finally forced David Bussone and Universal Health Services back to the bargaining table. But considering Bussone has people like Brent Yessin involved in this fight, it's impossible not to get the real point of Bussone's lock-out of the nurses. He wants to keep unions out of his hospitals. We need to make certain Bussone not only loses the battle in Las Vegas, but the war he's waging against unions in hospitals. Because there is more and more evidence that SEIU nurses are not only important, but critical to saving lives.

This one is going to break your heart. It happened at another of Bussone's Universal Health Services hospitals in Las Vegas, which happens to be non-union. It's also going to make you ask if this tragic story could have been prevented.

Richard and Kathlene Shinn were eager to visit their first-born baby the morning after physicians removed breathing tubes from her delicate 21-day-old body.

But they weren't prepared for what they witnessed when they entered the intensive care unit at Summerlin Hospital at 9 a.m. that November day.

"Alyssa's hands and feet were white. She was critically ill," Richard Shinn said Wednesday.

Within hours, their daughter was pronounced dead.


Now, the Shinns said they are desperate to learn what happened to their baby between the night of Nov. 8, when they left the hospital, and the morning of Nov. 9, when they returned. Alleging hospital officials have not answered their questions, the couple hired attorney Richard Harris.

The trio spoke to the media Wednesday to notify the community of their ordeal and warn others to beware of what could happen to their infants.

"People need to know what happened to Alyssa. They need to hear her story," a sobbing Kathlene Shinn said.

Harris acknowledged that he and the couple know little about the tragedy but speculated that the nursing shortage and overcrowding in the neo-natal intensive care unit might have contributed to Alyssa's death.

"Most people come to see me because they want to have answers," he said. "I urge the hospital to be forthcoming."

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Summerlin Hospital officials acknowledged the death.

"We are aware and saddened by the situation and extend our heartfelt sympathies to the family," the statement said. "As is the case with any adverse outcome, we take this very seriously. Therefore, we are thoroughly investigating the circumstances of this case." …

Parents plead for answers

Preemies are a challenge to nurses, mothers, hospitals and all concerned. One of my dearest friends gave birth to a preemie little boy just last year. They fought together, father, mother, child and hospital, sometimes wondering if they could all make it through it. What the nurses go through to care for preemies is the stuff of true selfless heroism at times. Talking to people who know, you learn that nurses wake up in the middle of the night fearing the worst with intensive care patients and preemies. But it also takes a hospital director who understands the demands on nurses in these units to get the job done. Enough nurses need to be on duty in these high risk and high stress wards to make sure mistakes are not made.

Again, UHS Summerlin Hospital is non-union. Bussone likes it that way. What the SEIU nurses are fighting for in the Valley Health System is not about money. It's about lowering the patient-to-nurse ratio, banning mandatory overtime, and getting "floating" policies in place so nurses are not moved into areas of the hospital where they have no expertise.

This raises an important question. Did Summerlin Hospital have enough nurses on staff to take care little Alyssa? Why wasn't the IV changed on this preemie at the scheduled time? Were too few nurses on duty?  If so, you certainly cannot blame the nurses when their worst nightmare plays out in real time.

Hospital staff administered intravenously Total Parenteral Nutrition, a common nutrient mix that includes zinc, to help Alyssa's metabolism.

A pharmacist sent a new dose of the solution for Alyssa on Nov. 8, and nurses began the drip about 10 p.m., Harris said. At 6:30 a.m., the pharmacist sent a memo to the nurses notifying them of a possible error in the prescription.

"Send new TPN stat," Harris said, reading from the memo.

But the IV was not changed until 1 p.m. on Nov. 9, when the nurses began flushing her body with an antidote, Harris said.

That morning, Kathlene Shinn called the hospital before visiting hours to see how Alyssa was coping without the breathing tube. She said nothing was mentioned of Alyssa's condition.

The Shinns were not told of any problems until after they arrived at the hospital at 9 a.m., walked into the intensive care unit and saw their ailing daughter.

"They didn't tell me to come in ASAP and spend the last three hours of her life with her," Kathlene Shinn said.

Hospital officials escorted the Shinns away from their baby and shut down the intensive care unit, kicking out other parents, Richard Shinn said. The couple then sat in a conference room for hours with no information.

The Shinns, who both work in the health care field, said hospital staff continued to tell them their baby was alive after her skin turned blue and cold.

"Some days it's hard for me to realize this actually occurred," Richard Shinn said. "It seems so senseless. It really does."

After reviewing the prescription by Alyssa's physician, Harris said the requested dosage appeared to be appropriate. How the lethal dosage of zinc was included in the solution or why no one at the hospital caught the mistake before it was administered was unclear, the Shinns said.

"There's five, six, seven people that have their hands on the TPN and review the dosage," Kathlene Shinn said.

Harris said the Shinns simply want answers for closure, but he did not rule out the possibility of legal action.

"I'm not here to point fingers," Kathlene Shinn, a registered nurse, said as she sat near a tiny pair of black shoes and photos of her only child. "I am urging the public, anyone who has been treated at a hospital or who has a family member or friend who has been hospitalized to listen. As health care consumers, we need to insist that hospitals institute all the technology that can prevent these types of medication errors."

Parents plead for answers

There are many questions that need to be answered about little Alyssa Shinn's death. However, one obvious point rings out on this tragedy. If you don't have enough nurses in every area, especially critical care units, a nurse simply cannot perform her or his duties up to the standard each and every nurse pledges to their patients. My heart goes out to the nurses on duty the day Alyssa died.

What happened at Bussone's Summerlin Hospital? We don't know yet, but the Shinns deserve answers.

And remember, what happens with Las Vegas doesn't always stay in Las Vegas. As we debate national healthcare, with the intent of covering every American, this very situation could be coming to a city or town near you. Because if you believe little Alyssa's story and the Shinn's heartbreak can't happen to someone you know, you just don't understand the ramifications of putting nurses under pressure with patient-to-nurse ratios sometimes as high as 10 to 1, while patients suffer the consequences, sometimes with their very lives.

NOTE: Commissioner Rory Reid and Speaker-elect Barbara Buckley, both of whom were inside the negotiations between SEIU and UHS, will be guests on Taylor Marsh LIVE! today, 6-7 p.m. eastern and 3-4 p.m. pacific, podcasts available.

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Taylor Marsh

Taylor Marsh

Taylor is a political commentator and radio personality who has been interviewed by C-SPAN's Washington Journal and all across TV and right-wing radio. She's been on the web for 10 years, going to blogging in late 2005. Taylor is affiliated with The Patriot Project, writes for Huffington Post, as well as Alternet. Her radio show debuted in 2002, which she now brings to her blog Mon-Thur, 6:00 p.m. Eastern or 3:00 p.m. Pacific. One of her passions is painting and creating political art. The graphic at the top of her blog is taken from the expressionist flag art that hangs in her home. She was born in Missouri, and has lived in New York City, Los Angeles and Las Vegas and some points in between.