Nurses of Inspriation: Deborah Burger
By Candy Goulette
Published 2:15 am PDT Saturday, May 1, 2004
First in a continuing series
Deborah Burger loves to sew. Sewing provided a way to relax after long days as a floor nurse, then as a diabetic care manager for Sutter Santa Rosa. But she gave up her beloved hobby when she took on what she calls her "second career" as a member of the California Nurses Association.
"I've always been a political person, but I didn't realize how much your political belief system affects your working life," Burger said. "I wasn't very politically active when I started in nursing, but over time, I got sucked in to doing more. I couldn't ignore it and it became my second career. I had to give up sewing."
That second career led to a third when Burger was elected to lead the CNA.
The organization is the state's largest organization of registered nurses and the largest and fastest growing independent nurses union in the U.S. Elected with 81 percent of the votes of CNA members, Burger took office in September 2003, in time to witness the implementation of staffing ratios in the state.
Burger had been CNA vice-president and succeeded Kay McVay, RN, who has served the past four years as CNA president, the full term allowed under CNA bylaws. Burger likely will also serve the full four years before being termed out.
At her election, Burger pledged to continue the direction of the current leadership which, she said, "has made CNA the most respected, premiere RN professional organization and union in the country."
"I'm proud to receive the support of CNA RNs," Burger said. "Every day we work to protect our patients and preserve our practice. This election was an endorsement of our patient advocacy program."
Burger praised the "gains CNA has made the past four years under the tireless work and dedicated leadership of Kay McVay," and added that she "looks forward to continuing the dynamic relationship of our elected staff nurse leaders with CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro and the incredible staff at CNA."
McVay, the outgoing CNA Board, and DeMoro and the CNA staff, Burger noted, have successfully doubled the membership of CNA and won landmark gains for RNs in economic improvements, retirement security and dramatic new patient care protections, including passage of the nation's first RN-to-patient staffing ratio law.
Burger chaired the CNA Kaiser negotiating team in contract talks in 2002, and has been a leading activist in her hospital as a nurse representative for her colleagues and a member of the RN committee that advocates for patient care improvements.
Burger points to the implementation of staffing ratios as one of the highlights of her long nursing career.
"Not a lot of people focus on long term projects, so for an organization and nurses to stay focused on one thing and pursue it doggedly for more than 10 years is fantastic," Burger said. "And look at the results - we have helped to create a safer system for our patients."
Burger noted that the industry has created more than 600 acuity systems, all based on budgets. The new law, she says, includes an acuity system that provides for safer patient coverage. That system includes a place for licensed vocational nurses, who, under California law, cannot practice independently.
"The CNA has met with the SEIU (Service Employees International Union, a subgroup of the AFL-CIO, the union which represents most LVNs) to assure them we have no intent of getting rid of LVNs," Burger explained. "The only friction between the RNs and the LVNs is over what the scope of practice is. By law, RNs are in charge, and we are ultimately responsible for patients."
Burger noted that the industry has "taken advantage of LVNs."
"They are getting ripped off and used," Burger said. "The LVN and RN boards have defined the scope of practice for both. That didn't change, but some in the industry have allowed LVNs to change their scope of practice illegally."
Burger said it is the RN who assesses the patient, then tells the LVN "these are the things you can do. Where the RN role comes in, we are the person providing nursing care and overseeing all aspects of nursing care."
And that nursing care should be distributed equally to all, she said.
"The CNA position is to have a single standard of care," Burger said. "Whether they are insured or not, a corporate CEO or a blue-collar worker in the hospital, everyone should be treated the same. We're fighting for a single standard of care nation-wide."