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Nurses protest cuts to public health, support campaign for Wall Street tax

Ventura County Star, 6/23/11

By Kim Lamb Gregory
Thursday, June 23, 2011

Nurses who support a tax on Wall Street transactions to help fund public health held a demonstration Thursday morning in Ventura, waving signs with slogans like "Too big to fail and getting even bigger" in support of the national campaign.

Some of the 14 local nurses and their supporters who showed up at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Telephone Road said the turnout was small because it was just organized this week as part of a series of rallies by the California Nurses' Association and National Nurses United. The first was in San Mateo on Monday, followed by a protest in Lancaster Wednesday and Ventura and San Diego Thursday.

The Southern California protests were timed to coincide with a demonstration in New York City Wednesday by members of National Nurses United, who support a tax on financial transactions such as the buying and selling of stocks, bonds and derivatives.

The movement, called "The Main Street Contract for the American People," is a proposal to use the revenue generated to rebuild what supporters see as a disappearing middle class. The billions they would hope to raise would fund public services like health and education, and expand Medicare to cover everyone.

"We're going along the road where we're going to have an aristocracy of the rich," said Ventura County Medical Center emergency room nurse Greg Thayer.

Two federal lawmakers are in the process of drafting the bill, which is called the American Health Security Act of 2011. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, is behind Senate Bill 915. The house equivalent is being championed by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington.

The nurses' unions wanted to join the movement, they said, because they consider themselves part of the middle class.

"Some people say the nurses make beaucoup bucks and that's really not true," said Tina Grieger, a nurse's union representative from Acton.

The nurses also were protesting federal, state and county cuts to public health. The Ventura County Board of Supervisors' 2011-2012 budget reduced funding for public health by about 10.4 percent, from almost $22 million in 2010-2011 to $19.4 million for the next fiscal year.

Ventura County public health nurse Brenda Gray talked about the frustration of cuts to First 5 California, a state program that provided public health nurse visits in the community to educate low-income parents and assess children ages 5 and under.

"I was out at a home with a diabetic mother and a child who was morbidly obese," Gray said. "The nurses in the community can detect the needs of people before they end up in the emergency room."

Ventura County Health Care Agency director Barry Fisher said the nurses affected by the First Five cuts were reassigned to other posts within the agency, but said there's no way to fill in the void in the community.

"Just because funding doesn't take place in health care doesn't mean those health care needs go away," he said.

Fisher fears the cuts will cost taxpayers in the long run because it will mean less preventive care and more expensive emergency room visits.

Paul Derse, the county's chief financial officer, said the county is in a tough spot because it can cut only so many slices out of a shrinking pie. If a social program loses its federal or state funding the county can't afford to continue it.

"That's why it's important for us to reinforce the set policy that if funding goes away, the (county) money goes away," he said.

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