COVID-19: How PASNAP is Supporting Health Care Workers in Wake of Pandemic

Healtchcare workers' advocates say pandemic has drawn attention to long-simmering issues in the profession.

COVIID-19 has been a crisis for people who work in hospitals. Nurses experienced burnout, hospitals faced understaffing, and patients suffered as the health care system struggled to cope.

One group, however, has been fighting for better conditions. While state and local agencies are attempting to adjust budgets and find financial resources for hospitals, labor organizations like the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) have been advocating for nurses’ needs.

PASNAP, is a voluntary union dedicated to nurses and health care workers that mainly advocates for things that will better meet patients’ needs, Maureen May, PASNAP president and long term Temple University Hospital nurse, said.

“Our patients are our greatest responsibility,” she said. “We will always advocate for our patients, and yes, sometimes we’ll get tough. But at the end of the day, we’re the ones standing by our patients’ bedsides, we are the ones who see them on a daily basis and we are the ones who will fight for them.”

PASNAP focuses heavily community outreach, such as going to local middle and high schools to educate students interested in health care or medicine. Aside from local outreach, the organization is also known for its political advocacy in the health care community.

Photo of PASNAP members rallying for nurses’ rights with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. Photo courtesy PASNAP Communications Team.

Over the last two years, PASNAP has advocated for nurses, health care workers and patients to receive better funding from state agencies. Back in January, PASNAP members rallied with other health care providers nationwide to address staffing shortages and demand workplace safeguards.

PASNAP has also rallied behind the Patient Safety Act, and advocated directly to the Pennsylvania House Health Committee Chair Rep. Kathy Rapp to pass this legislation. The act is designed to set safe staffing standards for nurses in the state. PASNAP is one of this bill’s largest supporters, May said.

One of the greatest reasons why this organization is as effective as it is, is because members and organizers in PASNAP understand how health care workers feel, May said. Most of them, in fact, are nurses themselves.

“As a lot of us at PASNAP are working nurses or were formerly in health care,” she said. “And we have a great deal of us who experienced burnout that was largely due to COVID. It was incredibly difficult. But to be honest, burnout was always an issue in health care. The pandemic just highlighted that.”

Understanding the system gives May and her fellow colleagues the passion and drive to advocate for policies that would improve working conditions for nurse, she said.

Maureen May, president of PASNAP, during a Zoom call. (Samantha Stewart/PN)

“I will always be passionate about what I do and about caring for others,” May said. “And so will my colleagues at PASNAP. That’s what makes us different, we are always going to care.”

Passion for patients and nurses alike has drawn in new recruits to PASNAP.

“The organization really inspires me, and once I got the opportunity to join, I did as soon as I could,” Fiona Sanderson, a Temple nursing student and member of the student group PASNAP-TU, said. “I think it’s just so important that someone is fighting for nurses and also patients, and not just in hospitals, but in government.”

Sanderson recalled when she first learned about the Patient Safety Act, and how PASNAP had pushed to have that act heard by the Pennsylvania state government. She noted not only how important the legislation was, but how relevant it was to her profession.

“I don’t think people realize that unsafe staffing is a real thing, and it’s no joke to nurses, it’s serious,” she said. “I just love that PASNAP did that. They supported such a huge bill. It blew my mind.”

PASNAP’s work advocating for legislation comes along other state-level initiatives funding support for health care workers.

In January, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf fast tracked a $225 million bill that would help support the health care industry. According to Wolf’s approved bill, $100 million would be distributed to acute care, critical access, and children’s hospitals licensed by the Department of Health; $110 million would be distributed to high-medical assistance hospitals, designated critical access hospitals, and inpatient and residential behavioral health facilities for recruitment and retention payments; and $15 million would go to quadruple the funds available for the nurse loan forgiveness program.

“This funding will allow health care centers and individuals to start to rebuild from the ongoing financial effects of the pandemic and recruit and retain staff who are vital to keeping our communities healthy and safe,” Department of Human Services Acting Secretary Meg Snead said in a press event shortly after the bill was passed.

As much as these state-level initiatives and funding impact health care workers, it still falls to on-the-ground organizations like PASNAP to help make sure resources are used as intended, May said. Once emergency funding from the pandemic fades, there will still be a need for organizations who advocate for health care workers’ needs.

“This isn’t just a job, this is a passion,” May said. “Some of these issues we fight for existed long before the pandemic, but that just highlighted them. We’re going to keep going with this, because there’s always going to be another cause, something new we need to handle”

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