An activist, Almada lost her job while fighting for better working conditions

By Abner Galino

Fil-Am nurse on the bus

Fil-Am nurse on the bus

From an anonymous smiling face on a bus advertisement to a recognized face smiling and shaking hands with the President of the United States of America.

This must be how to put in a nutshell a recent whirlwind episode on the life of a 28-year-old Filipina-American nurse who just recently flew back from Washington D.C., where she had the chance to shake hands with President Barack Obama and present to him a symbolic gift from her fellow nurses.
“It was very exciting, a kind of surreal experience. I felt like I blacked out for a second,” Allysha Almada recounts her moment with President Obama before she handed to him a gift-wrapped box containing a stethoscope inscribed with words: Listen to Nurses.

Almada was on the front row when President Obama spoke at the White House Summit on Worker Voice. She rose up to meet the president as he climbed down the stage.

“I said Hi President Obama, I’m Allysha, I’m a nurse and we are trying to organize. Here’s a stethoscope on behalf of my fellow nurses,” Almada recalled telling the president.

Fil-Am nurse wih President Obama

Fil-Am nurse with President Obama

President Obama, according to Allysha, said a few words to her but none of them sunk into her head as she was overwhelmed by his presence.

But Almada recalled President Obama asking: What is it? as he held the gift box that she presented.

 “A stethoscope,” Almada replied.

The story between the bus ads and the meeting with the President wasn’t exactly a straight fun-filled outline. On the other hand, it was a string of events filled with emotions and tension.

It started early this year, when Almada’s fellow nurses sought the help of the California Nurses Association in forming a union at the Huntington Memorial Hospital. Almada was recruited and subsequently became an active soul in the unionizing efforts.

On April, Almada was on an advertisement displayed on the side of some Metro buses. On that bus ads, Almada was an anonymous face of a smiling nurse who was in between two other women nurses who were also wearing their best smiles. Beside them were white bold letters that say: WE ARE PROUD HUNTINGTON RNs STANDING STRONG FOR OUR PATIENTS WITH CALIFORNIA NURSES ASSOCIATION. The images were on a red background.

With a feature that was distinctly Filipina, it wasn’t farfetch that some Pinoy commuters who saw it could have wondered: Sino Kaya ‘yung Pinay nurse na yun?

The bus ad was seen around Los Angeles for about a month.

In July, Almada spoke at a forum on a local church and later on at a press conference wherein she revealed the deplorable conditions of both patients and workers at the hospital and as well as the handsomely-paid union busting activities of its management. Her revelations were reported in a local newspaper.

When August came, Almada’s service was terminated by the hospital management.

Clearly an act of retaliation, the termination was particularly painful for Almada because of her deep emotional attachment to the hospital and to the people who work there. She regards the hospital as her second home. Her mother has been working at the hospital as a nurse for over 30 years.

Almada was born at the Huntington Memorial Hospital. She attended its day care center. She volunteered in the hospital when she was in high school. She worked there as a nurse aide before becoming a registered nurse. Even the family pet was a therapy dog at the hospital.

 “I love Huntington. And I will fight hard to get my job back,” Almada promised.

On September 21, Almada received an email from the White House inviting her to come for the Worker Voice Summit. By that time, Almada has already the backing of an indignant community. Over a thousand supporters, including elected officials, members of the clergy and prominent community leaders, have signed a petition urging the Huntington administration to reinstate Almada.

Days before she left for Washington D.C., Pasadena City Council Member Victor Gordo presented Almada a “Courage Award” in recognition of her bravery in speaking out for patients’ welfare and for undaunted efforts to help fellow nurses in organizing a union at the Huntington hospital.

Oh yes, before I wrap up her story, have I mentioned already that this gutsy and pretty Filipina nurse is getting married this Saturday, October 24?

That’s just how fast-paced the pages of time are turning for Allysha Almada this year.