<< New York Daily News
Friday May 17,2002
Spotlight on Great People: Nurse on Duty as Union Rep:
All of us should be thankful that Deborah Egel decided she was tired of selling used cars.
"I loved it," Egel said of her old job. "I was really, really good at it because I have an uncanny ability to talk to people I just meet and make them comfortable."
Personal testimony-she really does!
Egel quit financing Fords and hawking Hondas to become a nurse and, like her late father, Arthur, a former District Council 37 president who worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a union representative.
In addition to her job at the Creedmoor Addiction Treatment Center in Queens Village ("This is where you end up when you have no money, insurance or family to look out for you," she said), Egel co-directs the nursing committee of the New York State Public Employees Federation, where she represents 8,500 nurses working at state hospitals, group homes, prisons, psychiatric centers and other state agencies and facilities.
It's in that job that Egel, 42, has added her considerable energy to the fight against mandatory overtime for nurses at state facilities.
Creedmoor nurse leads fight against mandatory OT -
Here's the issue in a nutshell:
a serious shortage of nurses has led many hospitals, public and private, to institute mandatory overtime policies for staff nurses, meaning nurses can be ordered to work additional hours, from half a shift to a full eight hours, after they complete a shift.
Health professionals insist that the additional hours translate to a serious decline in the quality of health care (see sidebar.)
"A nurse working in a hospital cares for between nine and 13 patients a shift, not including new admissions," Egel said. "Often they administer very complicated medications. But you can't do this work well if you're dead on your feet."
Docs Just Part of Story -
"People think they go to a hospital for a doctor's care, but you go to be cared for by nurses," she said. "The doctor might see you for 10 minutes. The other 23 hours and 50 minutes each day, you're in the nurse's care."
Egel has organized two rallies at the statehouse in Albany on the issue. The latest, held last month, brought 500 nurses and their supporters to the Capitol, where they demonstrated on the statehouse steps before lobbying legislators to outlaw the mandatory overtime policy.
"I'm just doing what comes naturally," said Egel, who ran for shop steward at Creedmoor in 1994 before her year-long probationary period was up.
"My father always said that this was the greatest country in the world, because one person can actually make a difference. He was right. You can make a difference if you're willing to do the work."
Egel grew up in Ridgewood, Queens, attending Junior High School 93 and Grover Cleveland High, where she played the glockenspiel in the St. Aloysius Marching Band.
"I had a great childhood," she said. "My father was very political-he was a Democratic club leader. There were people in and out of our house all the time."
Even though she graduated from high school six months early, college was not on her mind. Egel worked for an insurance company for a few years before landing a job renting cars at Kennedy Airport.
A former boss offered her the car-selling gig, and she worked there for a few years before feeling the need for a more dependable career (read that: one with a pension). In 1991, Egel applied and was accepted to train at the city Emergency Medical Service academy to be an EMT.
New Direction in Medicine -
But then a friend asked if maybe she should make a deeper commitment and instead go to nursing school.
So Egel applied and was accepted to Queensborough Community College.
"The first day I walked on campus, I started crying because I felt so good," she said. "I loved school. I felt like I was empowering myself. My husband teases me that I'm the kind that would bring apples to the teacher."
Egel earned an associate degree from Queensborough before earning a nursing degree from Molloy College. She worked at St. John's Queens Hospital for a year before joining Creedmoor in 1994.
She and her husband, Elliot Reichman, live in Howard Beach.
Egel will start law school in the fall, and she intends to enter the city political arena after she earns her degree.
Procedure Called Unsafe -
A critical shortage of nurses nationwide has caused many hospitals and other health facilities to adopt a mandatory overtime policy.
Under these rules, nurses can be ordered to work anywhere from a half to full shift after completing their original eight to 12 hours on the job if their presence is required to meet safe staffing levels.
Anne Schott, communication director for the New York State Nurses Association, said additional hours "make it extremely difficult for nurses to give patients the kind of care they need."
Nurses who choose to leave could have their licenses yanked for abandoning patients, Schott said.
Health professionals maintain that an exhausted nurse can be an unsafe nurse. According to a report by the Institute of Medicine, there were about 98,000 preventable deaths in American hospitals last year-the presumption being many may have been attributable to poor in-hospital care.
It could get worse. If employment trends continue, projections are that about 400,000 nursing slots will be vacant by 2020.
Various groups are trying to have laws passed that would force hospitals to end mandatory overtime.
"We've had a tremendous amount of support," Schott said. "People are beginning to realize that this practice is not good for them.">>