September, 2007

Who Will Care? Meeting Vermont's Nursing Needs, Now and For the Future

Her routine is constant whether she is reporting to work at 7 a.m. or leaving at that time.

After two years, thousands of commuter miles and many more thousands of dollars in loans for educational and living expenses, Susan Paris is now a post-partum registered nurse (RN) at Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC) in Burlington.

She listens to the tape-recorded report from the previous shift, followed by a verbal update from the nurse assigned to her patients. Then it's time to meet the three couplets on this shift for an assessment of mothers and babies - blood pressure, temperature, pulse, respiration, check incisions from cesarean sections, check for a properly contracting uterus, and examine breasts for engorgement and milk production and blisters.


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Picture of a nurse



State of the Union:
The Fletcher Allen Health Care Nurses' Union Five Years On


When nurses at Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC) agreed to unionize in a second vote in the fall of 2002, the union - United Professions of Vermont (UPV), the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) - broadcast the news in a triumphant press release. According to AFT President Sandra Feldman, the union was necessary because of nurses' "desire to improve standards of patient care, secure a healthy and safe working environment, and establish equitable wages and benefits for front-line health care workers." The release also quoted Peg Coon, a registered nurse (RN) at FAHC and union organizer, as saying: "Everything in this campaign boiled down to nurses' concern over quality patient care. There aren't enough nurses to care for patients, and having a voice in patient-care decisions will make a big difference. Also, competitive wages and benefits will improve recruitment and retention, which will in turn improve patient care."

Are there enough nurses now at FAHC to care for patients? And if so, can the union claim some responsibility? Five years on, are the nurses at Fletcher Allen - now one of five of Vermont's 14 hospitals to have unionized nurses - glad they unionized, for their own and their patients' sakes?

While the press release placed wages last in their lists of reasons to unionize, increased pay is generally the first thing nurses mention when asked about the pros and cons of being unionized. Regina Helias, an RN from St. Albans, has been a night nurse for 19 years in FAHC's Medical Intensive Care Unit and Coronary Care Unit (MICU-CCU), and she worked for 11 years before that in Tucson, Arizona. For her, the pay increase is "just about the only positive thing about the union."


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Picture of a nurse with a patient

Got Grit? Kirstin and Kylie Quesnel Do
The New Generation of Vermont Dairy Farmers

Being the farmer's daughter doesn't mean what it used to mean, jokes 26-year-old Kylie Quesnel, the striking blonde daughter of Whiting dairy farmers Lorenzo and Amy Quesnel. But still, strange things happen, she says, sitting in manure-splattered jeans on the deck of her parents' farmhouse overlooking the main barns and office of the 1000-plus herd business.

"When I first came back to work here after college, an older man walked in to the farm office and said, 'Hey little girl, where's your daddy.' I said you're going to have to talk to me, what can I help you with. He said, 'Well I'm here to talk business.' I told him if he was talking business, then I was the one he needed to talk to. Eventually it came out he was the semen salesman. So then we got through that and conducted our business, but I'm not sure he got over talking about semen sales with a woman."

"It's still primarily a man's business, but businesses are seeking women employees to satisfy their diversity requirements, so it's changing. There are lots of opportunities opening up for women," says Kylie's sister Kirstin, 25. "And farmers are beginning to realize that if they have all daughters, the farm isn't coming to an end."


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Kylie Quesnel (left) and Kirstin Quesnel

Raptor Rapture at the British School of Falconry

The talons of the great bird brushed the top of my head as she swooped out of the barn past us, enhancing the thrill of anticipation that had been buzzing in me for months.

It all started last winter when I had encountered the beautifully-carved wood sculpture of a Harris hawk at the entrance of Manchester's Equinox Inn, which captures the moment when the talons of the bird grasp the gloved fist of a falconer. The detail and the drama of the piece are so compelling, I knew I had to experience the real thing for myself.

Today was the day. We are with falconer Dawn Kelly of the British School of Falconry at the Equinox, in their century-old white barn on the edge of Hildene Meadows in Manchester.

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Suzanne Gillis