Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN, President of National Nurses United, California Nurses Association, National Nurses Organizing Committee
I have been a registered nurse for 41 years, all but one at Kaiser Permanente South San Francisco Medical Center. I started in the medical/surgical unit and then worked in other areas, including intensive care, before I landed in the perioperative unit, where I care for patients before and after surgery.
My shift starts at 6 a.m. with my pre-surgery assessment: taking vital signs, starting the IV, making sure patients haven’t had anything to eat or drink. I talk to the patients, letting them know what to expect. Some will go home the same day and others will be admitted for recovery. Then I care for post-surgery patients.
I saw the power of the union early in my career when I wanted to transfer to an open position in a different unit, but was told that unit had too many Filipinos. My union helped me win my discrimination grievance. We also fought for and won safe nurse-to-patient staffing limits in California, great contracts, and more, over the years.
Nowadays, I wear an N95 respirator mask and a face shield at work. Surgical patients are supposed to be tested for COVID-19 prior to surgery, but some do not get the test results until after surgery. That’s why we need optimal personal protective equipment (PPE)—and since January, my union has been leading the fight for it. We have written to every international, national, and local agency we could, held hundreds of actions at facilities across the country, and spoken out everywhere for safe protections.
We have already won fights. In my facility, we were able to secure some PPE and push back on some practices we know are unsafe. But we still need more. Frontline workers need optimal protections, and union members will never stop fighting until we have them.
Amy Arlund, RN, California Nurses Association Board Member, Fresno, California
I have been a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center for my entire 19-year nursing career. I work in the intensive care unit (ICU). Since March, I have been caring for COVID-19 patients. My unit has one side for COVID-19 patients and one side for non-COVID patients.
Whenever I am in a patient room, I wear a gown, gloves, N95 respirator mask, and a face shield. Outside a patient room, I wear a surgical mask and face shield to give myself a break from wearing the N95. Because of COVID, I have to do other jobs in addition to nursing care. I’m the janitor, cleaning the rooms and emptying the trash. I’m the respiratory therapist and the phlebotomist drawing blood. I do all these jobs because the ancillary staff will not go into a COVID-19 room.
Being an active member of CNA has given me the support, education, and training to be a stronger activist and advocate for my patients. It has empowered me to be a better nurse. I used to be easily intimidated by management. CNA helped me realize that it’s my duty as a union nurse to decrease risks to patient safety as much as possible. It’s why I’m on the infection control committee. It’s why I speak out about the PPE and staffing issues at my hospital. I know my union will support me and fight for me. The strength of the union is in its members becoming actively engaged. I want to show other nurses, “This is how you advocate, this is how you fight.”
Marissa Lee, RN, Nurse Representative, Board Member, National Nurses Organizing Committee, National Nurses United Vice President, Kissimmee, Florida
I have been a registered nurse for 36 years, nearly all of them in labor and delivery. For the past 15 years, I have worked the night shift at Osceola Medical Center. Because of my skill level and experience, I am multifunctional and can care for patients at different stages of their pregnancies.
My routine and my relationship with patients has changed because of the pandemic. Now I wear a hat, an N95 respirator mask, and a face shield. I have that face shield on during my entire 12-hour shift. It’s hard to wear for so many hours. Because of COVID-19, I have to keep my distance from patients and the patients suffers. I can’t comfort patients. I can’t hug them anymore.
I have been a union activist ever since I helped to unionize the nurses at my hospital in 2009. We are fighting for safe staffing and PPE — gloves, shoes, and gowns. I’m very militant. I am also a vice president of NNU and I’m an elected board member of the union. As a board member I speak to nurses from Maine, DC, Texas, and all over Florida. I learn about what their issues are and how we can merge all our issues into one.
I want to put nurses’ voices out there. In July, I participated in a health care workers’ roundtable on Florida’s surge in COVID-19 cases, hosted by Congresswoman Val Demings and State Senator Vic Torres. I lobby my congress members. I talk to reporters and educate the community.