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Health care for all; California Nurses Association tour makes stop in Santa Cruz

Silicon Valley Mercury News, 7/6/12

Members of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United line up in front of the Nurses Campaign to Heal America tour bus on Thursday outside of the Louden Nelson Center in Santa Cruz. (Kevin Johnson/Sentinel)

Members of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses
United line up in front of the Nurses Campaign to Heal America tour bus
on Thursday outside of the Louden Nelson Center in Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Johnson/Sentinel)

SANTA CRUZ - The California Nurses Association Tour stopped in Santa Cruz Thursday, offering free medical screenings to residents and downtown passers-by at the Louden Nelson Community Center.

Volunteer nurses, dressed in red medical outfits matching the color of the tour's coach, were distributing fliers downtown, inviting people to get a free blood pressure screening and a blood sugar test.

Santa Cruz was the 12th stop on the California Nurses Association Tour.

The health crusade kicked off in San Diego on June 19 and is crisscrossing the state until July 12, stopping in 18 cities along the way. Besides providing free screenings, the tour hopes to build grass-roots support for a universal medical state-suppported program in California.

"Everybody in the country, from cradle to grave, should be eligible for Medicare," association president Malinda Markowitz said.

The recent upholding of the Affordable Care Act by the U.S. Supreme Court is far from meeting the association's expectations. Instead, the group is backing Senate Bill 810, which will be reintroduced in the state legislature, after failing in January. The bill aims to create a universal health care system covering every California resident with comprehensive benefits for life.

Bill Gallagher, political organizer for the California Nurses Association, speaks to a full room at the Louden Nelson Center in Santa Cruz on Thursday during the Medicare for All tour. (Kevin Johnson/Sentinel)

Bill Gallagher, political organizer for the California Nurses Association,
speaks to a full room at the Louden Nelson Center
in Santa Cruz on Thursday during the Medicare for All tour.
(Kevin Johnson/Sentinel)

"The only winner in the Affordable Care Act are the insurance companies because they will have more people contributing to their pools," Markowitz said. "People will still have to face large insurance premiums, co-pays and deductibles. These are the issues we need to address."

Residents attending the event had the choice to sign a petition supporting a Medicare-for-all system, after getting the results of their screenings.

"We're not able to treat people," CNA board member Lorna Grundeman said. "But we're able to refer them and tell them what to do if they have a condition that we're concerned about."

A nurse for 24 years at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, Grundeman said she is treating more uninsured patients. Many of them lost their coverage after being laid off after the downturn of the U.S. economy.

"They don't go see a physician because they can't afford it," Grundeman said. "Then they walk in with diseases and illnesses that could have been taken care of much sooner at a much less expensive cost."

Nurses screened 45 to 50 people in Santa Cruz on Thursday, Markowitz said. Among them, many fit Grundeman's description. An estimated 18 percent of Santa Cruz County residents were uninsured in 2009, according to figures from the Census Bureau.

"I can't even afford a cigarette," James Robinson said. "How do you want me to pay for health insurance?"

Robinson, 54, has been unemployed for a year. A former installation contractor, Robinson's company was hit hard by the economic crisis and he lost his house, he said. The Santa Cruz resident has been dealing with a dislocated shoulder for months, after lifting a refrigerator off a truck. Unable to afford health care, Robinson waited for his shoulder to heal, he said. He even had to push it back in place several times by himself.

"Even now I don't know if it's correctly healing because I don't have anyone to look at it for me," Robinson said.

The association's checks showed that Robinson's blood pressure and sugar level were healthy. But other patients discovered a condition they were unaware of. Charles Sanders, 41, was spotted with abnormally high blood pressure.

"I'm just glad that I caught it before I had a heart attack or something," Sanders said.

Sanders and his wife Sonja walked through the Community Center's door with daughter Weshawee after being handed fliers. The couple lives on a household income of $27,000 a year, earned through Sonja's receptionist job in a animal hospital, Sanders said. The couple has lived without health insurance for the past two years, until Sonja became pregnant two months ago and eligible for Medi-Cal coverage. Individually purchased insurance would cost the Sanders $140 a month per person, a cost the household can not afford, Sanders said.

"It's really hard for working-class families like us to buy insurance. Every insurance company has the same rates, I don't understand why there's no competition," Sanders said. "We're just hoping that Obamacare will go through."

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