Houston has become a hotspot in Texas for "nurse activism," evidenced by the state's first unionized hospital, the Cypress-Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital, but one Houston facility is very serious about keeping a union far away from its employees.
Joanne Thompson, a registered nurse who works at the West Houston Medical Center, is also a member of the National Nurses Organizing Committee. She tells Hair Balls that hospital managers have disciplined her several times for simply talking about the union at work. Furthermore, she says, nurses frequently receive reminders to "be on the lookout for organizers" and to call security if one is spotted, so he can be removed from the hospital.
"They fear losing control," says Thompson, who has worked as a nurse for 28 years. "I've very seldom used the word 'union' at work. I'm careful not to let it slip out."
Nurses at the Cypress-Fairbanks hospital voted last spring to affiliate with the same union as Thompson. Nurses at West Houston, however, have been apprehensive to organize on a large scale, Thompson says.
"A majority of our nurses are foreign. I'm one of the very few white, American nurses on my unit," she says. "Foreign nurses are very terrified to organize. They have this fear that their visas might get yanked, and they might get sent back."
She continues, "I've even had American nurses ask me if it's legal to go to a certain meeting. Do you have to tell where you go to church? This is America."
The National Nurses Organizing Committee has pushed for legislation in Texas to cap the number of patients a nurse can treat during a shift, and for the first time, legislators will consider such a bill when the legislation opens next week. If passed, Texas would be one of three states to have a similar law.
Thompson works a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at West Houston, and this morning she couldn't leave work until 9 o'clock. She works on a unit similar to intensive care, and her four patients are one too many, she says.
"There are a slew of incidents [of poor patient care] at my facility, as there are at every hospital in this state, and most of them get shoved under the carpet."
-- Paul Knight