ViewPoint: Nurses for Sustainable Healthcare

 

"We need more police." Sen. Max Baucus
"We need more police." Sen. Max Baucus

It’s National Nurse’s Week. Commentator Sandy Eaton, RN — the Massachusetts Nurses Association representative to MassCare, the Massachusetts Campaign for Single Payer — shares his thoughts on what nurses want for their patients.


Nurses advocate for our patients. That’s what we do. We do it in clinical practice. And we do it through political action. When our delegation met with Senator John Kerry’s aide in Washington recently, one of our members told of a patient who fell through the cracks of our Massachusetts healthcare system. Due to copays and deductibles, he could afford prescribed medications or food. He chose food — and wound up in critical condition in the Emergency Department. He died there.

Nurses know that health care in this country requires a thorough recasting. Nurses know that health care must be treated as a human right, not as a market commodity. We know that we must tackle access, affordability and quality together, or we’ll wind up with what we have now in Massachusetts, something that’s not universal, not sustainable, and not fair. 

A few weeks ago I spoke to a roomful of nurses in Portland, Maine about our decades-long struggle in Massachusetts to create a just healthcare system. I related our long list of partial reforms, as well as the crucial campaigns that so far been thwarted by the vested interests of the insurance and hospital industries, enabled by corrupted politicians. I talked about our campaign to amend the state constitution to proclaim health care a right, not a privilege. I talked about our long hard fight to enact legislation placing an enforceable limit on the number of acutely ill patients a nurse may care for at one time. Both of these initiatives were killed in the name of the Massachusetts plan. 

When I concluded my remarks, a Maine nurse raised her hand to ask when we were moving on to civil disobedience. Ironically, eight days later eight activists for single-payer, universal health care rose one by one in the chamber of the Senate Finance Committee to demand a seat at the table for Medicare-for-all advocates. One by one they were arrested, and now the Baucus Eight face up to six months in jail for speaking truth to power. 

This year Nurses’ Week culminates with nurses in Washington spending Florence Nightingale’s birthday pounding on the door demanding admittance for advocates of healthcare justice. As I speak, nurses led by the California Nurses Association and its National Nurses Organizing Committee are joining with hundreds from many states and other organizations. They’re rallying at the US Capitol for the single payer solution, Medicare for All. They want patient safety measures like enforceable limits on patient loads. They want a ban on mandatory overtime. And they want Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure that would greatly enhance the power of nurses and other workers to counter industry greed. What’s good for nurses is good for patients, too. It’s time to make health care serve people, not corporate greed.

For the Sea Change Viewpoint, I’m Sandy Eaton, RN of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.