GET TO KNOW A NURSE: RN Deb Montgomery ‘Jumped Into The Deep End’ To Fight For What’s RightJuly 16, 2021
Immediately after RN Deb Montgomery was hired full-time by HCA Palms West Hospital in December 2019 she joined 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East for the better pay and protections provided as part of a union.
But she didn’t stop there. The lactation nurse immediately became active as a delegate, signed up to become a member of the 1199SEIU bargaining committee in contract negotiations with HCA, and then volunteered to serve as a member political organizer (MPO) for the 2020 election.
“I jumped into the deep end right away because it really takes everyone making an effort every day to protect and fight for our rights,” she says. “If we don’t, we’ll get walked over by our employers or some politicians and others who are driven by unfair power or greed.”
Of course, 2020, her first year on the job and in 1199SEIU, was an historic challenge with months of contentious contract bargaining, the COVID-19 pandemic and a high-stakes presidential election.
These experiences reinforced her conviction that working people must stick together, stay active and focused to build a better life for themselves, their families and their communities. “Our strength is not just in the numbers, but in not letting up,” she says. This has her already looking ahead to the critical 2022 Florida election, especially those for governor and U.S. Senate, in which voters have the opportunity to replace “cynical and self-serving” politicians Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio. “From bungling the pandemic at every turn, to suppressing and silencing voters, to serving up favors to big business and gun makers, plus so much more, failed politicians like these two show
they don’t care for everyday Floridians,” she says. “We need real leaders who will serve the people, not take advantage of them.” In addition to being active, Montgomery also has been outspoken. She has participated in news media interviews, social media campaigns and other mass communication efforts. For example, she authored an opinion column that appeared in the Palm Beach Post calling for the Florida Legislature to create a “People’s Budget” that properly funds and protects healthcare workers and patients. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, she says, the GOP majority and governor again doled out massive tax breaks to large corporations and their lobbyists, while burdening regular workers, residents and consumers with billions more in taxes.
“Deb has an amazing amount of energy and dedication to making things better for all of us,” says Boston Alexander, an 1199SEIU organizer at her hospital. “Deb’s co-workers and her patients are very lucky to have her as a union leader.”
Montgomery earned her nursing degree in 2017 as a divorced, single mom with three children, age 11, nine and seven years old. Her first nursing job was in the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach. She moved to Palms West as a per diem nurse for a short period before being hired full-time. She chose her current role and lactation specialty after her experiences breast-feeding her own children. “I breast-fed for more than eight years of my life with three kids, and I saw how little lactation support and expertise was available for new mothers.”
She recently assisted in resuscitating and saving the life of a newborn while stepping up to provide coverage in the hospital nursery. It was a gratifying experience, but indicative of staffing shortages throughout the healthcare system. As the sole, full-time lactation nurse at her facility, new breast-feeding mothers were left without support while Montgomery filled in at the nursery.
It’s a common situation, she says, in which caregivers face chronic staffing shortfalls, as well as a lack of hazard pay, adequate benefits and many other necessities.
When she’s not fighting for herself and fellow workers, Montgomery exercises, runs or practices Yoga daily to fight off burnout and to stay physically and mentally balanced. She also enjoys crochet.
These activities don’t surprise 1199SEIU’s Alexander. “They’re all about staying energized and focused, and so is Deb. When she starts something, she goes all in.”
Contact your organizer to serve as a delegate, bargaining committee member, MPO or other role to help advance and protect the rights and needs of workers.