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The culture and politics of health care work

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The culture and politics of health care work

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Achieving Access

Professional Movements and the Politics of Health Universalism

Joseph Harris

At a time when the world’s wealthiest nations struggle to make health care and medicine available to everyone, why do resource-constrained countries make costly commitments to universal health coverage and AIDS treatment after transitioning to democracy? Joseph Harris explores the dynamics that made landmark policies possible in Thailand and Brazil but which have led to prolonged struggle and contestation in South Africa. Drawing on firsthand accounts of the people wrestling with these issues, Achieving Access documents efforts to institutionalize universal healthcare and expand access to life-saving medicines in three major industrializing countries.

In comparing two separate but related policy areas, Harris finds that democratization empowers elite professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, to advocate for universal health care and treatment for AIDS. Harris’s analysis is situated at the intersection of sociology, political science, and public health and will speak to scholars with interests in health policy, comparative politics, social policy, and democracy in the developing world. In light of the growing interest in health insurance generated by implementation of the Affordable Care Act (as well as the coming changes poised to be made to it), Achieving Access will also be useful to policymakers in developing countries and officials working on health policy in the United States.

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The Big Squeeze

A Social and Political History of the Controversial Mammogram

by Handel Reynolds

In 2009, an influential panel of medical experts ignited a controversy when they recommended that most women should not begin routine mammograms to screen for breast cancer until the age of fifty, reversing guidelines they had issued just seven years before when they recommended forty as the optimal age to start getting mammograms. While some praised the new recommendation as sensible given the smaller benefit women under fifty derive from mammography, many women's groups, health care advocates, and individual women saw the guidelines as privileging financial considerations over women's health and a setback to decades-long efforts to reduce the mortality rate of breast cancer.

In The Big Squeeze, Dr. Handel Reynolds, a practicing radiologist, notes that this episode was only the most recent controversy in the turbulent history of mammography since its introduction in the early 1970s. In a book written for the millions of women who face the decision about whether to get a mammogram, health professionals interested in cancer screening, and public health policymakers, Reynolds shows how pivotal decisions made during mammography's initial launch made it all but inevitable that the test would be contentious. He describes how, at several key points in its history, the emphasis on mammography screening as a fundamental aspect of women's preventive health care coincided with social and political developments, from the women's movement in the early 1970s to breast cancer activism in the 1980s and '90s.

At the same time, aggressive promotion of mammography made the screening tool the cornerstone of a huge new industry. Taking a balanced approach to this much-disputed issue, Reynolds addresses both the benefits and risks of mammography, charting debates, for example, that have weighed the early detection of aggressively malignant tumors against unnecessary treatments resulting from the identification of slow-growing and non-life-threatening cancers. The Big Squeeze, ultimately, helps to evaluate the ongoing public health controversies surrounding mammography and provides a clear understanding of how mammography achieved its current primacy in cancer screening.

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The Caring Self

The Work Experiences of Home Care Aides

by Clare L. Stacey

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 1.7 million home health aides and personal and home care aides in the United States as of 2008. These home care aides are rapidly becoming the backbone of America's system of long-term care, and their numbers continue to grow. Often referred to as frontline care providers or direct care workers, home care aides-disproportionately women of color-bathe, feed, and offer companionship to the elderly and disabled in the context of the home. In The Caring Self, Clare L. Stacey draws on observations of and interviews with aides working in Ohio and California to explore the physical and emotional labor associated with the care of others.

Aides experience material hardships-most work for minimum wage, and the services they provide are denigrated as unskilled labor-and find themselves negotiating social norms and affective rules associated with both family and work. This has negative implications for workers who struggle to establish clear limits on their emotional labor in the intimate space of the home. Aides often find themselves giving more, staying longer, even paying out of pocket for patient medications or incidentals; in other words, they feel emotional obligations expected more often of family members than of employees. However, there are also positive outcomes: some aides form meaningful ties to elderly and disabled patients. This sense of connection allows them to establish a sense of dignity and social worth in a socially devalued job. The case of home care allows us to see the ways in which emotional labor can simultaneously have deleterious and empowering consequences for workers.

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The Challenge to Change

Reforming Health Care on the Front Line in the United States and the United Kingdom

by Rebecca Kolins Givan

There is constant pressure on hospitals to improve health care delivery and increase cost effectiveness. New initiatives are the order of the day in the dramatically different health care systems of the United States and Great Britain. Often, as we know all too well, these efforts are not successful. In The Challenge to Change, Rebecca Kolins Givan analyzes the successes and failures of efforts to improve hospitals and explains what factors make it likely that the implementation of reforms will be rewarded by positive transformation in a particular institution's day-to-day operation. Givan's in-depth qualitative case studies of both top-down initiatives and changes first suggested by staff on the front lines of care point clearly to the importance of all hospital workers in effecting change and even influencing national policy.

Givan illuminates the critical role of workers, managers, and unions in enabling or constraining changes in policies and procedures and ensuring their implementation. Givan spotlights an Anglo-American model of hospital care and work organization, even while these countries retain their differences in access and payment. Entrenched professional roles, hierarchical workplace organization, and the sometimes-detached view of policymakers all shape the prospects for change in hospitals. Givan provides important examples of how the dedication and imagination of the people who work in hospitals can make all the difference when it comes to providing quality health care even in a challenging economic environment.

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The Changing Face of Medicine

Women Doctors and the Evolution of Health Care in America

by Ann K. Boulis and Jerry A. Jacobs

The number of women practicing medicine in the United States has grown steadily since the late 1960s, with women now roughly at parity with men among entering medical students. Why did so many women enter American medicine? How are women faring, professionally and personally, once they become physicians? Are women transforming the way medicine is practiced?

To answer these questions, The Changing Face of Medicine draws on a wide array of sources, including interviews with women physicians and surveys of medical students and practitioners. The analysis is set in the twin contexts of a rapidly evolving medical system and profound shifts in gender roles in American society.

Throughout the book, Ann K. Boulis and Jerry A. Jacobs critically examine common assumptions about women in medicine. For example, they find that women's entry into medicine has less to do with the decline in status of the profession and more to do with changes in women's roles in contemporary society. Women physicians' families are becoming more and more like those of other working women. Still, disparities in terms of specialty, practice ownership, academic rank, and leadership roles endure, and barriers to opportunity persist. Along the way, Boulis and Jacobs address a host of issues, among them dual-physician marriages, specialty choice, time spent with patients, altruism versus materialism, and how physicians combine work and family.

Women's presence in American medicine will continue to grow beyond the 50 percent mark, but the authors question whether this change by itself will make American medicine more caring and more patient centered. The future direction of the profession will depend on whether women doctors will lead the effort to chart a new course for health care delivery in the United States.

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Changing the Course of AIDS

Peer Education in South Africa and Its Lessons for the Global Crisis

Changing the Course of AIDS is an in-depth evaluation of a new and exciting way to create the kind of much-needed behavioral change that could affect the course of the global health crisis of HIV/AIDS. This case study from the South African HIV/AIDS epidemic demonstrates that regular workers serving as peer educators can be as-or even more-effective agents of behavioral change than experts who lecture about the facts and so-called appropriate health care behavior.

After spending six years researching the response of large South African companies to the epidemic that is decimating their workforce as well as South African communities, David Dickinson describes the promise of this grassroots intervention-workers educating one another in the workplace and community-and the limitations of traditional top-down strategies. Dickinson's book takes us right into the South African workplace to show how effective and yet enormously complex peer education really is. We see what it means when workers directly tackle the kinds of sexual, gender, religious, ethnic, and broader social and political taboos that make behavior change so difficult, particularly when that behavior involves sex and sexuality.

Dickinson's findings show that people who are not officially health care experts or even health care workers can be skilled and effective educators. In this book we see why peer education has so much to offer societies grappling with the HIV/AIDS epidemic and why those interested in changing behaviors to ameliorate other health problems like obesity, alcoholism, and substance abuse have so much to learn from the South African example.

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Circles of Exclusion

The Politics of Health Care in Israel

In its early years, Israel's dominant ideology led to public provision of health care for all Jewish citizens-regardless of their age, income, or ability to pay. However, the system has shifted in recent decades, becoming increasingly privatized and market-based. In a familiar paradox, the wealthy, the young, and the healthy have relatively easy access to health care, and the poor, the old, and the very sick confront increasing obstacles to medical treatment.

In Circles of Exclusion, Dani Filc, both a physician and a human rights activist, forcefully argues that in present-day Israel, equal access to health care is constantly and systematically thwarted by a regime that does not extend an equal level of commitment to the well-being of all residents of Israel, whether Jewish, Israeli Palestinians, migrant workers, or Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Filc explores how Israel's adoption of a neoliberal model has pushed the system in a direction that gives priority to the strongest and richest individuals and groups over the needs of society as a whole, and to profit and competition over care.

Filc pays special attention to the repercussions of policies that define citizenship in a way that has serious consequences for the health of groups of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens-particularly the Bedouins in the unrecognized villages-and to the ways in which this structure of citizenship affects the health of migrant workers. The health care situation is even more dire in the Occupied Territories, where the Occupation, especially in the last two decades, has negatively affected access to medical care and the health of Palestinians. Filc concludes his book with a discussion of how human rights, public health, and economic imperatives can be combined to produce a truly equal health care system that provides high-quality services to all Israelis.

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Cleaning Up

How Hospital Outsourcing Is Hurting Workers and Endangering Patients

by Dan Zuberi

To cut costs and maximize profits, hospitals in the United States and many other countries are outsourcing such tasks as cleaning and food preparation to private contractors. In Cleaning Up, the first book to examine this transformation in the healthcare industry, Dan Zuberi looks at the consequences of outsourcing from two perspectives: its impact on patient safety and its role in increasing socioeconomic inequality. Drawing on years of field research in Vancouver, Canada as well as data from hospitals in the U.S. and Europe, he argues that outsourcing has been disastrous for the cleanliness of hospitals—leading to an increased risk of hospital-acquired infections, a leading cause of severe illness and death—as well as for the effective delivery of other hospital services and the workers themselves.

Zuberi’s interviews with the low-wage workers who keep hospitals running uncover claims of exposure to near-constant risk of injury and illness. Many report serious concerns about the quality of the work due to understaffing, high turnover, poor training and experience, inadequate cleaning supplies, and on-the-job injuries. Zuberi also presents policy recommendations for improving patient safety by reducing the risk of hospital-acquired infection and ameliorating the work conditions and quality of life of hospital support workers. He makes the case that hospital outsourcing exemplifies the trend towards “low-road” service-sector jobs that threatens to undermine society’s social health, as well as the physical health and well-being of patients in health care settings globally.

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Collaborative Caring

Stories and Reflections on Teamwork in Health Care

edited by Suzanne Gordon, David L. Feldman, and Michael Leonard

Teamwork is essential to improving the quality of patient care and reducing medical errors and injuries. But how does teamwork really function? And what are the barriers that sometimes prevent smart, well-intentioned people from building and sustaining effective teams? Collaborative Caring takes an unusual approach to the topic of teamwork. Editors Suzanne Gordon, Dr. David L. Feldman, and Dr. Michael Leonard have gathered fifty engaging first-person narratives provided by people from various health care professions.

Each story vividly portrays a different dimension of teamwork, capturing the complexity—and sometimes messiness—of moving from theory to practice when it comes to creating genuine teams in health care. The stories help us understand what it means to be a team leader and an assertive team member. They vividly depict how patients are left out of or included on the team and what it means to bring teamwork training into a particular workplace. Exploring issues like psychological safety, patient advocacy, barriers to teamwork, and the kinds of institutional and organizational efforts that remove such barriers, the health care professionals who speak in this book ultimately have one consistent message: teamwork makes patient care safer and health care careers more satisfying. These stories are an invaluable tool for those moving toward genuine interprofessional and intraprofessional teamwork.

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The Complexities of Care

Nursing Reconsidered

edited by Sioban Nelson and Suzanne Gordon

"Nursing, everyone believes, is the caring profession. Texts on caring line the walls of nursing schools and student shelves. Indeed, the discipline of nursing is often known as the ‛caring science.’ Because of their caring reputation, nurses top the polls as the most-trustworthy professionals. Yet, in spite of what seems to be an endless outpouring of public support, in almost every country in the world nursing is under threat, in the practice setting and in the academic sector. Indeed, its standing as a regulated profession is constantly challenged. In our view, this paradox is neither accidental nor natural but, in great part, the logical consequence of the fact that nurses and their organizations place such a heavy emphasis on nursing's and nurses' virtues rather than on their knowledge and concrete contributions."-from the Introduction

In a series of provocative essays, The Complexities of Care rejects the assumption that nursing work is primarily emotional and relational. The contributors-international experts on nursing- all argue that caring discourse in nursing is a dangerous oversimplification that has in fact created many dilemmas within the profession and in the health care system. This book offers a long-overdue exploration of care at a pivotal moment in the history of health care. The ideas presented here will foster a critical debate that will assist nurses to better understand the nature and meaning of the nurse-patient relationship, confront challenges to their work and their profession, and deliver the services patients need now and into the future.

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