AFT Healthcare Semifinalists
Registered Nurse, Fletcher Allen Health Care, Burlington, Vt.
Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, Local 5221
In January 2010, Travis Beebe traveled to Haiti to help victims of a devastating earthquake. He didn’t know then, but his decision to go would ultimately help him as well. “I grew in ways I never anticipated,” he says. Beebe, a critical care nurse at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt., and a member of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, has traveled to Haiti at least a half- dozen times since the 2010 earthquake to volunteer his services.
“The first time I went, I didn’t know what to expect at all,” he says. “Haiti’s medical infrastructure does not rely on technology, it relies on assessment skills. I was stripped of all the tools I normally use and had to rely on my basic skill set,” says Beebe. Going back to the basics allowed Beebe to really connect with his patients and “helped to develop my compassion. It has brought more humanity to my practice as a nurse and renewed my hope that people want to live a better life.” His work in Haiti has been an “amazing introduction to a country and a culture of people,” says Beebe. Haiti is an environment that is radically different from his own, and he says getting to know the country has changed him. “It has made me more aware of how others live, and it’s made me realize how much I have to learn,” says Beebe, who has worked with the Vermont Medical Response Team, the VFNHP, and Haitian nurses and doctors to establish a clinic for women and children in Port-au-Prince. “I look at how much I enjoy my nursing practice, and for me to be able to support people in the same practice is wonderful,” he says.
“It’s nice to see the country alive again. The Haitian people are phenomenally resilient. [They] keep me coming back,” he says. “The more I travel, the more I see a grass-roots-level energy for change in their country. Their goal is to build it back better.” Beebe says working in Haiti has “magnified what nursing has brought to my life. It’s very easy to get caught up in the daily grind of things. When I get that way, I think about the people in Haiti. Sometimes I wonder how I ended up here. But I know I was drawn to this field, and there isn’t anything else I would like to do. I’m in the right place professionally.”
School Nurse, Washington Elementary School, West Haven, Conn.
West Haven Federation of Teachers and School Nurses, Local 1547
School nursing is a passion for Saundra McCauley. For the last 26 years, McCauley has committed herself to helping students and their families. “I try to get to know the children,” says McCauley. “Eventually, I find out what their problems are and what I can do to help.” McCauley’s help often comes in the form of Christmas gifts, Thanksgiving baskets or lunch money. “School nursing is so different now than when I first started,” says McCauley. “I have grown with the job.” Her growth is not just in skills and education; McCauley is more than willing to go the extra mile for her students. “Students are needier, and I like being able to help. Sick, sad or hungry children can’t learn,” she says. Whenever McCauley sees a need, she figures out a way to help. She has approached her local pharmacy to donate nebulizers for children with asthma, set up a bike safety program for students, and held an after-school program to teach children how to knit and crochet. “Members of the community are very supportive. They will respond if you ask,” she says. As a school nurse in West Haven, McCauley is lucky and she knows it. Her school district is rare: There is a nurse in every school here. But, as nurse president of her local, the West Haven Federation of Teachers and School Nurses, she has to fight to maintain those positions. “Every child needs a school nurse. I will always argue that,” says McCauley. “I can’t fathom having more than one school. You’re just not effective that way, and it’s not fair to the children. I’ll tell anyone who wants to cut school nurses, come follow me for a day, do what I do and then tell me you don’t need a school nurse.”
School Nurse, Auke Bay Elementary School, Juneau, Alaska
Juneau Education Support Staff, Local 6096
It’s been a challenging year for school nurse LuAnn Powers. It started with a plan crafted by administrators in her school district to eliminate six of 10 school nurses—a move that would leave four school nurses to care for 5,000 children in the Juneau, Alaska, school district. “Our nurses need roller skates as it is,” says Powers, who has been a school nurse at Auke Bay Elementary School in Juneau for 10 years. “To lose more than half of the nursing staff would severely limit the medical services for students.”
Last year, Powers became the first nationally certified school nurse in the Juneau School District. The process for earning national certification is similar to what teachers go through to earn their national certification. Going through the process “made me think more about the role of the school nurse,” says Powers. “It opened my eyes that much more about how important it is for us to be in the schools.” That’s one reason why Powers didn’t hesitate to get involved when she learned that the school district was considering cutting school services. Powers, along with her school nurse colleagues, worked closely with their union, the Alaska Public Employees Association, to craft a strategy to fight the school district’s plan. She testified before the school board about the work of the school nurse and encouraged parents to testify as well. “Using my voice is one of things I’ve learned from the union,” says Powers. “If you don’t speak up for yourself then you’re not going to get anywhere.”
The efforts of Powers and her colleagues swayed the school board to cut only two school nurse positions instead of six. It will be a challenge to figure out how to best serve the children with fewer nurses, she says, “but we will make it work. We have to.” In the meantime, Powers will try to find ways to improve the delivery of healthcare in the schools. “I’ve always strived to be the best school nurse I can be, and I will continue to do that.” As for her nomination as an AFT Everyday Hero, Powers says this: “I find it hard to see myself in that light when I am surrounded by everyday heroes who help make my job easier and so enjoyable.”