NEW YORK NURSE: May 2010
by Erin Silk
On April 20, the Empire State Convention Center was filled with more than 2,000 RNs and nursing students in attendance for Lobby Day. This year’s group, the largest in NYSNA’s history, was also the biggest to lobby Albany yet this year.
Faced with a full agenda, participants were briefed for afternoon meetings with legislators. NYSNA’s top legislative priorities— safe patient handling programs, safe staffing ratios, educational advancement, and addressing violence against nurses were outlined in a morning program that included tips for talking with legislators.
NYSNA President Karen Ballard addressed the crowd and thanked them for turning out in such large numbers from “distant spots like Plattsburgh on New York’s northern border, Buffalo in the far west, Montauk Point on eastern Long Island, and many, many places in between.”
Ballard reminded the nurses that “this is your opportunity to influence decisions that will be made on issues that affect your practice, your patients, your healthcare facilities and your profession.”
The nurses listened intently to NYSNA lobbyists from Malkin & Ross who performed a role-play of a typical lobbying appointment that showed how to get and keep the attention of their legislator. For many of the nurses, this was their first experience with lobbying.
Governmental Affairs Director Shaun Flynn commended the nurses for their support and said that during these dire fiscal times, either you “get involved, or get ignored” by Albany and that participation is critical.
When Senator Diane Savino, a champion of workers’ rights, addressed the crowd on Lobby Day, she admitted that at first she was puzzled as to why she was asked to speak, since she is not a nurse.
However, as a former social worker in a similarly female-dominated field, her experiences mirror those of nursing. She can relate to being motivated by caring for others, working in dangerous settings, and the value of lobbying for her profession. Like nurses, social workers face obstacles such as pay disparity, dangerous job conditions, and programs that are on the chopping block come budget time. She referred to the country’s current “assault on the people who work hard every day,” and said that nurses must continue to make their voices heard in Albany. “As caregivers on the frontlines, nurses have the best ability to make the case for healthcare reform…better than anyone else.”
Expressing her dismay at the situation that led to the recent closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, Savino warned that “we cannot afford to lose any more hospitals because of financial mismanagement.”
Below are some “dos and don’ts” of lobbying:
Know what a “yes vote” means
Even though a legislator may be in favor of your bill, he or she must get others to vote for it in the Codes or Rules committee of their respective house.
Do not compromise the bill!
Don’t get sidetracked by legislators who want to rewrite your bill in order to vote for it. It’s not up to you as the lobbyist to make changes.
Make a point of following up after your visit
Tell the legislator or staff member that you will check back on their progress.
Treat legislators with respect, but not awe
Don’t be intimidated by lawmakers. Instead, stay focused and stand your ground on the issues.