But a call to a nurse in the Beth-Israel Hospital maternity ward put the Bakers' minds at ease - and offered a lesson in the value of a good nurse.
Above, University President William P. Leahy, SJ, and Connell School of Nursing Dean Barbara Munro look on as Beverly Malone, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, speaks during a symposium held as part of the dedication of the William F. Connell School of Nursing last Friday. Below, at the dedication ceremony, Fr. Leahy and Margot Connell stand next to a photograph of her late husband. (Photos by Rose Lincoln)
"I am sure [that nurse] is out there somewhere wondering why I am in a leadership position in health care," said Baker, the CEO and president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Inc., sharing the anecdote from some years ago at the symposium "Meeting the Nation's Need for Nurses," held as part of the dedication of the William F. Connell School of Nursing on Sept. 12.
"No one has more common sense than nurses," said Baker, who endorsed a greater leadership role for nurses in the health care industry.
"Nurses have a feet-on-the-ground perspective that is very important in leadership. In most health care settings nurses are providing the critical thinking and the common sense. It's like what my mom used to say: A nurse is someone who translates what a doctor says into something someone can understand."
The celebration of nurses' common sense, hard work and invaluable contribution to health care was a theme of the day's events. Following the symposium was a ceremony featuring remarks by US Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), University President William P. Leahy, University Chancellor J. Donald Monan, SJ, and CSON Dean Barbara Hazard Munro, SJ, and attended by family members of the late William F. Connell. Connell's widow, Margot, also spoke at the ceremony.
"How fitting it is to have the Connell School of Nursing, because if there was any person on this earth who cared about people, not only members of his immediate family, but also the extended community, it was Bill Connell," said Fr. Leahy at the dedication ceremony.
"He was deeply involved with the development of Boston College as a parent, trustee, and benefactor. That legacy of caring will live on in the Connell School of Nursing in a special way as its faculty and students continue striving to help meet the health challenges facing America in the 21st century."
The symposium, held in Robsham Theater and attended by some 500 alumni, faculty, staff and students, was moderated by WBZ-TV "HealthWatch" reporter Mallika Marshall, MD. Joining Baker for the panel discussion were Michael F. Collins, MD, president and CEO of Caritas Health Care, and Beverly Malone, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, the United Kingdom's largest professional union of nurses.
An estimated 2.6 million registered nurses now work in the United States, according to the symposium organizers, and many experts believe that number is insufficient to cope with future health care needs, especially given the increase in the nation's elderly population with the aging of the so-called "baby boom" generation. Since fewer young people are attracted to nursing careers, organizers said, the future of the American health care industry is at stake.
Baker's point, that nurses possess a wealth of practical common sense sorely needed at all levels of the health care industry, was one of several topics covered by the speakers in analyzing the implications of the nurse shortage in the United States. The trio discussed the problem from their respective vantage points in the health care industry: nurse, hospital administrator and health insurer.
Malone said a variety of factors and misconceptions have hurt the profession, and the important role nurses play in caring for patients is underappreciated.
"Nurses need to be valued," said Malone. "We have to make nursing more visible."
Doing so, she said, will entail a wholesale reconsideration of the compensation and opportunities offered to nurses. "We've got to open doors and crash some ceilings," said Malone.
Collins, who manages the second-largest health care network in Massachusetts, said, "The nurse is the embodiment of essential personnel. No other profession bears the responsibility of remaining at the patient's side."
Nurses, physicians and health care administrators need to forge a collegial partnership to better manage the care of patients, said Collins, who cautioned against over-reliance on emerging medical technologies to replace the care traditionally given by nurses.
"Technology drives a wedge between patients and care-givers," said Collins. "We should not manage the care out of health care."
Baker discussed the role of some clinical technologies in health care and how they influence the nursing field, for better or worse. He said that the opportunities abound for students interested in nursing and said there would be some necessary changes in coming years.
"Thirty to 40 percent of jobs will be outside of institutions," he said, "but there will still be a lot of heavy lifting to do. That will always be the way it is."
Baker offered insight on the future of health care and offered a frank point of view from the top executive's perch.
"There are some sexual politics going on here," said Baker, pointing out that the numbers of men in top administrative health jobs far outstripped the number of women, yet most of the nursing jobs are held by women.
"Why aren't we seeing more nurses making decisions in management?" he asked. "That's something we should look at further."
Malone, who predicted that the US would need more than a million additional nurses, said the health care community could consider importing nursing talent from abroad and should do what it can to "take care" of students already enrolled in nursing programs.
With that, Malone asked the Connell School of Nursing students in attendance to stand and be recognized with a round of applause.
"Colleagues, these are jewels," she said.
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