National Nurses Week 2020

Nursing Work Is Advocacy Work

By: Krystal Kilhart, NSRH Membership Intern


With the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, the visibility of nurses speaking out against injustice in our healthcare system has gained attention. Death tolls of patients and healthcare workers alike continue to rise with little to no intervention from the government. There has also been increasing rhetoric around frontline workers like nurses being celebrated as heroes in our fight against COVID-19. This adoption of war like language is priming the general public for an acceptance of mass deaths of nurses and other front line healthcare workers that are entirely preventable. 


Since the start of the pandemic, nurses have been speaking out against this problematic language calling out the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), insufficient ventilators and other lifesaving technologies, improper sanitation and quarantine measures, lack of paid sick leave and hazard pay. From protesting against state decisions to lift stay-at-home orders in Arizona to demanding PPE outside of the White House in honor of fellow healthcare workers who have lost their lives to COVID-19, nurses are joining the outcry of thousands of other essential workers whose lives are being placed on the line. As Jillian, a nurse in Brooklyn, NY, put it: the wartime rhetoric makes the deaths of health care workers seem “inevitable, and unavoidable, when really we’re being sacrificed...” 


Although this activism has steadily been gaining attention, it should not be mistaken for something new. Nurses have been actively speaking out against injustices in healthcare and patient treatment for decades. For many nurses, it is a necessary facet of the work they do. In particular, nurses working in sexual and reproductive healthcare have always advocated for their patients’ as well as their own rights and safety. Just weeks ago, registered nurse and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D-IL) led the Black Maternal Health Caucus in passing the Momnibus Act 2020 to address black maternal mortality and morbidity in our nation. 


Nurses working in sexual and reproductive health clinics experience daily threats of violence and domestic terrorism. From the assasination of Kansas doctor George Tiller in 2009 to the recent upsurge in statewide abortion bans under the guise of COVID-19 protections for patients and healthcare workers, access to sexual and reproductive healthcare remain under constant threat. Nurses have been at the forefront of activists’ fight to ensure unrestricted access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. Just last year, Maine Governor Janet Mills (D-ME) signed a bill allowing nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other qualified medical professionals to administer abortions involving oral medication and in-clinic procedures.


Nursing and social justice are inherently linked; both healthcare and advocacy are essential means of protecting patient, provider, and community health and well-being. In a healthcare system that places profits over human life, nursing and advocacy have been and will continue to go hand in hand. 

 
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