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‘Deadly Shame’ Shorts Highlight Nurses and Their Life & Death Struggle for Systemic Change

“As we mourn the deaths of more than 400 US nurses who have died from Covid, we continue to call for safe staffing levels, optimal Personal Protective Equipment, and an Emergency Temporary OSHA Standard that addresses the need to protect against the aerosol transmission of the virus that causes Covid-19.” Jean Ross, president, NNU.

New York, NY – National Nurses United [NNU], the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in the U.S.  with more than 170,000 members nationwide, has released a new series of animated shorts exploring the dichotomy of being both celebrated frontline heroes and marginalized professionals in the age of COVID-19.

“The Deadly Shame” consists of three episodes, each illustrating how the ongoing pandemic is exposing the devaluation of nursing by employers and elected officials who put profits before patients and workers — and how organizing and union solidarity can reverse the dynamic.

NNU President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN narrates the first episode: “Deadly Shame: Care Penalty” over colorful and engaging visuals. “Nurses are often described as ‘heroes’ — but we are more like expertly trained, highly skilled fierce guardians,” she says. “While nurses prioritize people — our corporate bosses prioritize profits.”

In “Deadly Shame: Moral Distress,” NNU Vice-President Catherine Kennedy, RN  says, “We need optimal PPE, safe staffing levels, robust and routine testing, proper isolation and more.” During the final episode “Deadly Shame: Nurse Power,” NNU Vice-President Maria Lee, RN, makes it clear that for nurses, “Our unity has always been our most powerful tool.”

In observance of Nurses Week, LaborPress spoke with NNU President Jean Ross to find out more about “The Deadly Shame.”

LP: Who originally conceived of the animated shorts?

JR: Our staff produced a deeply researched and beautifully written report, “Deadly Shame: Redressing the Devaluation of Registered Nurse Labor through Pandemic Equity” that was more than 90 pages long.  We knew the information we had gathered was important and insightful about nurses’ experiences, but we also knew that only a small number of people would read such a lengthy report.  

LP: Is there a specific demographic these shorts are designed to reach?

JR: I think these pieces speak to anyone who has had any interaction with our money-driven health care industry, in other words, everyone. We have seen throughout the pandemic how profits, not patients, informed the decisions that put nurses at risk and led to the death of more than 400 nurses from COVID-19. This series would be of interest to anyone who witnessed the failures by the government and the hospital industry throughout this pandemic as well as anyone who plans to go to the hospital for themselves or a loved one in their time of medical need. We hope these shorts explain how a market-driven health care industry leads to short staffing, jeopardizes patient care, and leads not only to the devaluation of nurses on the job, but also their very lives. We also hope this series inspires nurses and nurse allies to action, because we know it is through collective action that we can address the failings of the current system.

LP: What is the most pressing issue in your mind right now facing nurses?

JR: As we mourn the deaths of more than 400 US nurses who have died from COVID-19, we continue to call for safe staffing levels, optimal Personal Protective Equipment, and an Emergency Temporary OSHA Standard that addresses the need to protect against the aerosol transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Earlier this month, the CDC published a new scientific brief better recognizing the science of aerosol transmission, but the CDC once again failed to do what it needs to do, which is update its COVID guidance for health care and other frontline workers to fully recognize aerosol transmission.

Nurses have been calling for this standard for more than a year. Imagine, if we had an OSHA standard a year ago, many of these 400 nurses we lost might still be alive. The pandemic is not over, and frontline workers continue to work without the protections we need, putting their lives, and their families’ lives, at risk.

LP: Is there anything the public can do to help alleviate these issues mentioned in the shorts, such as contacting elected officials?

JR: National Nurses United has created a Nurse Advocacy Network for anyone to join who would like to help nurses as we work to create a more equitable health care system that values nurses and focuses on the needs of patients. The NNU Nurse Advocacy Network is a community of activists who are ready to mobilize to ensure that nurses and other frontline health care workers have the protections and safety standards they need to care for patients. We work to hold our elected officials, health care employers, and other decision-makers accountable.

There is no better way to honor nurses than to sign up to join NNU Nurse Advocacy Network. We know it falls to all of us to hold our elected officials, health care employers, and other decision-makers accountable. And we know that when we come together and take action, we have the power we need to win.

Visit the NNU Nurse Advocacy Network here. Click here to watch “The Deadly Shame.”   

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