Monday, October 15, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 3: Two bangs for the stimulus buck

Speaking of stimulus...

          My partner, Darling Virgo, started off 2009 with a shiny new Bachelor of Science in Nursing.  Sending her back to school for that degree was probably the most strategic financial investment our little hippie brains ever made.  Surely she would earn more as a nurse than as a social worker, and nursing jobs are everywhere, right?  That's what they say: If you're a nurse you'll never have to worry about work again.  Except--it turned out--in 2009.
          Can you picture it?  Snow frozen on bare-branched silver trees, a new President's breath frozen in prophetic clouds that float out over the heads of two million optimists, meanwhile every CFO of every university, every foundation, every hospital in the land is peering into their endowment portfolios thinking, I know there used to be something in here, I just know it.
          You might think  hospitals are recession proof--people never stop getting sick after all--but it turns out they're not. And in 2009 they were suffering as much as everyone else.  And cutting costs.  And one of the costs they cut was the expense of training newly graduated nurses.  It made short-term fiscal sense to hire more expensive, experienced nurses, than to invest in broadening the pool and mentoring new grads.  And there wasn't really a need to broaden the pool anyway, because there was a recession on, you know?  People were doing what they could to keep afloat.  Part-time nurses went back to working full-time; older nurses postponed retirement, and new grads searched and searched for openings that weren't there.
          So there was Darling Virgo, ready to start wrapping wounds, birthing babies, inserting catheters, ready to pay off those student loans... and there wasn't a job in sight.  Did I mention she graduated Summa Cum Laude?  Did I mention she was not just a new nurse, but a new nurse with 10 years experience as a social worker?  Did I mention she is the most competent, efficient, friendly, eager, reliable person I've ever met?  Maybe I forgot that part.  Probably because it didn't matter; there were still no jobs.
          But we were optimistic.  We were thinking about relocating to a new city anyway, so we started researching all over the country.  Boston, DC, the Medical Triangle, the Bay Area, everywhere.  But everywhere we looked we found the same thing: listservs of newly graduated nurses who couldn't get hired.
          Months passed and there was no change.  Well no change except that May was coming, and with it another pool of new nurses to compete for the zero available positions.
          And then one Sunday I saw an ad in the paper.  (Yes, the actual physical newspaper.  I love that the government still advertises in the newspaper.  It's so cute.)  The City of Portland had received money from The Stimulus Package to open a new public health center.  They were recruiting all positions: receptionists through MDs.  Darling Virgo was, of course, the perfect candidate for a position at the center given her experience, and by the beginning of that summer she was part of their start up team. 
          The Portland Community Health Center opened its doors in fall of 2009, and even better than providing a job for our family, that Center offered (and continues to offer) a sliding scale payment structure in addition to accepting private and public insurance.  The Portland Community Health Center makes it possible for people to seek primary care instead of expensive and ill-used emergency care.  And ultimately, the Portland Community Health Center is another two bangs for the price of one stimulus buck: spending tax dollars to keep people employed, and then using those people to keep everyone else healthy.
          Thanks President O. for another win win in the smart government column.

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