PEF nurse networks to combat the opioid epidemic
Story and photo by DEBORAH A. MILES
The value of union membership goes beyond collective bargaining for a good contract, job security and a vast array of benefits. It is also about connecting and sharing with other PEF members to make a difference in all our lives.
That’s precisely what PEF member Julie Hutchinson has been doing about the opioid epidemic that is devastating the nation, including New York.
“The death rate for opioid overdose is escalating daily. It is disturbing that deaths due to these overdoses have almost doubled in one year. The Center for Disease Control reported that 33,000 deaths occurred nationwide in 2015 and 64,000 in 2016,” Hutchinson said, who works as a nurse educator at Rochester Psychiatric Center.
Hutchinson has gained much insight working in various roles during her 30-year nursing career, including parenting adolescents who were addicted to substances, and providing oversight to health offices in Rochester schools.
In 2012 when Hutchinson accepted a position with the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), she oversaw the health screening of all the patients admitted to an inpatient addiction treatment center.
“That’s really when treating addiction became a prime focus. A year later, I was an opioid prevention trainer in the western region of the state.”
Hutchinson also witnessed her brother completely turn his life around, from being an addict and family outcast to a responsible man who played a heartwarming role in their family.
“It’s getting to the point where we will all be personally affected by the opioid crisis in one way or another. We see family, friends or co-workers who are dependent on opioids because of chronic pain. They never wanted to become addicts, but have to deal with the aftermath. I know I am not alone. There must be other state employees who are in the same situation.
“As professionals in a strong union, we have the ability to educate people, whether it is at our worksites, church and within our communities. My goal is to empower members with timely health and wellness information, and utilize PEF as a vehicle to address the opioid overdose problem in our state. It’s not unfathomable to think the union can step up and take a role to do something about this using its resources, of which I am one.
“As union leaders emphasized at the convention, using the nurses who helped in Puerto Rico as an example, our role in public safety is to be more informed and responsive. I see this as a time when unions need to market themselves, especially with the looming decision of the Janus versus AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) case and its consequences.
“It could be so powerful for us to make sure all New Yorkers, including legislators, realize PEF members are a resource and a tool. PEF being a union of professionals also gives us a unique position to address public safety and the needs of human services workers on a statewide level,” Hutchinson said.
Her vision to shine an even brighter spotlight on the opioid crisis is catching on in the greater PEF family. Hutchinson’s presentation at the convention has other nurses engaged in her mission, and three downstate facilities have requested her opioid overdose prevention training.
To view Hutchinson’s PowerPoint presentation, go to the PEF website and click on “Nurses.” To schedule a training workshop, contact Hutchinson at gro.f1516587670ep@no1516587670snihc1516587670tuhJ1516587670.