Polly Sheppard has been on a mission since surviving the 2015 Emmanuel AME church massacre in South Carolina. If the killer spared the retired prison nurse in the hope that she would spread his message of gun-toting white supremacy, though, he must be grievously disappointed.In fact, the indefatigable septuagenarian has been delivering her own messages – and like many nurses, she is a very good communicator.
In the years following the notorious shooting, Sheppard crisscrossed the country to speak against gun violence. Then, once she accumulated enough speaker fees she poured her earnings into another passion and established her own Scholarship Foundation to support nursing students in Charleston. Now, as the seventh anniversary of the chilling church murders approaches, Sheppard is focusing on another initiative to reduce future bloodshed: this week she sent an eloquent appeal to South Carolina’s senate urging them to finally pass a hate crimes law.
“Being there, laying under the table with this gun to my head couldn’t be anything but hate.”
Like most hate crime laws, the proposed SC bill would add up to five years to prison sentences for any homicide or assault motivated by hatred of the victim’s race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or disability. Aside from Wyoming, South Carolina is the only state that has failed to pass some form of law against hate crimes, but the current bill has faced a steep uphill battle. At present eight SC senators are determined to see it expire… which is a painful irony as Emmanuel pastor Clementa Pinckney, a victim of the massacre, had been a senator himself. If the bill ends up on the table as a code blue, though, it won’t be due to inactivity on Sheppard’s part.
In a powerful two-minute video viewed by the senate on April 27, Sheppard addressed the recalcitrant senators. She mused on other ironies, asking some acute questions: “I really can’t understand them standing against a [hate] law, but they can pass a law to kill somebody a firing squad. They can take that to the floor, but they can’t bring the hate crime law to the floor… What’s the problem?” Sheppard also wondered “why South Carolina has to be the last, almost the last to get a hate crime law? Because we didn’t have it. We had to go to the federal government for (the AME killer) to be charged with a hate crime. It makes no sense.”
Sheppard reminded her audience: “Eight members of the South Carolina Senate are giving a safe haven to hate. Every time you look at senator Pinckney’s photograph, you should be reminded that hate killed him.”
Despite the overall positive results, which have continued to improve since the survey started in 2013, still shows some areas of concern. For instance, there are not widespread measures of improvement among all groups. The report found nearly 80 percent of white respondents reported that they were “doing OK financially,” but that only two-thirds of black and Hispanic respondents answered the same way.
It’s not a surprise that where people live also impacts their reported overall well being. Of the 11,000 respondents who answered the survey last October and November, only two-thirds of those living in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods were satisfied with where they live, compared with 8 in 10 in moderate- to upper-income neighborhoods. Those with at least a bachelor’s degree reported more stability than those with a high school diploma.
What does this mean for you as a nurse? It brings a different perspective into your practice depending on where you are located. As someone who works with the public every day, you know how the stressors of the environment can play out in the health of your patients. It’s worth digging a little deeper when you are able to find out the particular stressors of your area.
For instance, what are the pressures of a patient in a specific neighborhood? Some patients might report a lack of public or accessible transportation makes it difficult to get to appointments, buy groceries, or find a job. Other neighborhoods lack high-quality mental health care or they are in a food desert making it almost impossible to buy fresh groceries. Still other neighborhoods don’t feel safe for certain populations.
What can this Federal Reserve Report help you learn about your patient population? If you see many older patients, they may be struggling in retirement or they may feel forced to continue working to pay the bills. The report found that 25 percent of respondents who were not retired yet had nothing saved for retirement. Of those of retirement age 60+, 13 percent have nothing saved. Again, minorities reported being less prepared financially for retirement than white respondents.
The repercussions for the patients who are continuing to work to pay the bills can impact everything from their sleep schedules to what they can afford for food, medication, housing, and transportation. It can also have an impact socially and with their emotional health. If someone continues to work past retirement age because they have to, for instance, they may feel a resentment and exhaustion that is absent or not disruptive in someone who chooses to remain gainfully employed. On the other end of the generational spectrum is the younger population struggling to pay bills and launch an independent life because they are swamped with student debt. They may be raising a family and working more than one job to keep up.
All of the touch points in the report are good points for nurses to ponder. Knowing what your general population struggles with can help you ask the right questions to get to a deeper level of care. Some stressors aren’t as obvious (financial distress), aren’t acceptable to talk about in some cultures (gender identity), or may not be easy to bring up (domestic violence or mental health struggles).
As the top patient advocates, nurses can help bring issues to the forefront and can help patients get the kind of help they need to live the healthiest lives possible.
What are some of the top stressors your patient population faces?
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