From left: Donna Turner, a registered nurse, Dr. Pier Broadnax and Stephen Frum, a labor representative for National Nurses United's chapter in Silver Spring, Maryland, discuss the challenges within the health care system during a roundtable discussion at the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization headquarters in D.C. on Nov. 9, 2015. Photo by Travis Riddick
From left: Donna Turner, a registered nurse, Dr. Pier Broadnax and Stephen Frum, a labor representative for National Nurses United's chapter in Silver Spring, Maryland, discuss the challenges within the health care system during a roundtable discussion at the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization headquarters in D.C. on Nov. 9, 2015. Photo by Travis Riddick

Donna Turner, a registered nurse at the Department of Veterans-Affairs Medical Center in Northwest D.C., is overworked, and she wants changes made in her working conditions — which routinely consists of seeing up to seven patients during a 12-hour shift, without an assistant.

“That’s unheard of. Seven patients [are] too much. You can’t give excellent care with that many patients,” Turner said Monday at a meeting at the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization headquarters in Northeast. “We had three new nurses who quit in three months. Until the situation gets fix, it is going to be a revolving door.”

A portion of the discussion hosted by the Ward 7 Health Alliance Network focused on ways to provide quality health care for those in low-income neighborhoods. The plan is to organize all the ideas presented and conduct strategic planning sessions in 2016 to implement policy changes in the city.

Stephen Frum, a labor representative for National Nurses United’s chapter in Silver Spring, Maryland, said his organization presented a proposed bill before the District’s City Council to amend the city’s Occupational Safety and Health Act.

The provisions include: no layoffs, a nurse being allowed to refuse to work overtime and the city’s Department of Health to partner with the University of the District of Columbia’s Community College to increase students graduating from UDC’s associate degree in nursing program by at least 50 percent.

The bill remains in limbo with council’s Health Committee, Frum said.

“We need your help to bring this bill to vote,” said Frum, who’s also a registered nurse. “When the working conditions improve, nurses will stay and everyone will receive much better care.”

A major change for the nursing profession may arise in five years.

Pier Broadnax, director and associate professor at UDC’s nursing program’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES), said her school and others are training students to think more critically, present an opinion on health care and obtain a bachelor’s degree by 2020.

“We don’t have a nursing shortage, but we are experiencing a shortage of baccalaureate prepared nurses,” she said. “Hospitals are no longer wishing to hire the non-baccalaureate nurses. How do they affect the hospitals? The public just wants a nurse who’s competent … who can take care of them in not only in a competent manner, but in a compassionate manner. It’s kind of hard to be compassionate when you have seven patients and all of them are seriously ill.”

One suggestion made by nearly all of the three dozen health care professionals, advocates and residents is collaboration.

DeBora Johnson, founding director of Youth and Family Development Model, said the faith-based community can help those with mental health challenges.

“[A church] is sometimes the first place people go to get help,” she said. “Sometimes the pastor can solve the problem. Sometimes [they] can’t. You have to have someone in the church to make referrals for people to go to. That can help a lot of people in the community.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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