1. Mason, Diana J. PhD, RN, FAAN, AJN Editor-in-Chief

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Despite a possible termination of their health benefits, registered nurses at Flushing Hospital Medical Center are vowing to keep pressure on hospital management to negotiate a fair contract. [horizontal ellipsis]" I was stunned to read this in a February 17 press release from the New York State Nurses Association, which represents nurses at the hospital in New York City. The RNs have since signed a contract with no change in health insurance and pension benefits, but my first thought was:How could a hospital not ensure that its employees have health insurance?

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But I shouldn't have been so shocked. As health care costs have soared, companies such as General Motors and Ford have cut retiree health benefits for new employees, and others have backed off on their commitments for insurance benefits promised to retirees. Many employees and retirees fear that they will lose their health coverage for their retirement years, prompting the U.S. Department of Labor to issue a document called "Can the Retiree Health Benefits Provided by Your Employer Be Cut?" (see Increasingly, companies are cutting the health insurance benefit or they're providing it with premiums, deductibles, and copayments few can afford. In 1989, 80% of full-time, private-sector employees had employer-sponsored health coverage, according to Vanessa Fuhrmans in the October 24, 2005, Wall Street Journal, but that percentage dropped to 66% in 2005, and employees who are covered are paying more out of pocket.


Whether we face the prospect of losing health insurance because an employer decides to balance its budgets on the health of its employees or of losing everything we own in a fire, we are all vulnerable.


This month, AJN 's In Our Community column (page 84) spotlights the only charitable organization dedicated to nurses in need-Nurses House. Begun in 1922 with a $300,000 bequeathal, the organization purchased a house that could give nurses respite; in 1960 it sold the house, and its mission now is "to provide short-term financial assistance to nurses in need as a result of illness, injury, or disability," according to its Web site. But Nurses House itself faces an ongoing financial struggle.


In 2000, it received only $101,171 in donations from individual nurses, nursing organizations, and corporations. While this amount more than doubled the following year, its donations declined in 2004 to $175,219. The requests for assistance have only increased. Nurses House granted nearly $250,000 in the last three years to more than 200 nurses. Susan Fraley, MS, RN, executive director of Nurses House, told me that whenever an article about Nurses House is published, the publicity results in more applications for assistance than it does in donations.


You can change that, in the following ways:


* Ask your employer to honor its nurses by donating money budgeted for Nurses Week "celebrations" to Nurses House. In many institutions Nurses Week is now a Hallmark event, one in which employers recognize nurses with food, T-shirts, and pens. Suggest that the money be put to a better use.


* Make a tax-deductible donation yourself, and do so annually (go to


* Contact Nurses House about sponsoring a fundraiser in your workplace.


* Ask friends and family to contribute to Nurses House in your name instead of giving you a gift. Do the same for a nurse you want to honor.


* Nurses House has often been viewed as a New York organization because its board of directors has been composed largely of nurses from this state. That made sense when the cost of getting members to board meetings cut into the funds available to nurses in need. But it's time for the Nurses House board to reflect the national constituency that it serves. Let Nurses House know that you'd be willing to serve the organization as an ambassador, volunteer fundraiser, or board member.



I hope never to need the help of Nurses House. But I know that someday I might, as others do now. None of us is immune from hardship or calamity; but we can help one another when needed.