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Nurses union supports equal access for all

Orlando Sentinel , 6/27/11

By Jean Ross
June 28, 2011

The view from the hospital floor where nurses give care 24/7 is quite a distance from the halls of Congress, which is consumed with debates on debt ceilings. Or from Labor Department cubicles, where monthly unemployment numbers are being crunched. Or from corporate boardrooms, which are signing off on executive bonuses.

Our view is of the immediate needs of the sick. Still, in the end, these are pieces that inform a critical national discussion. For us, the question is: How can the richest country in the world — by far — be in such a serious crisis, and what can we do now to remedy it?

We nurses see the effects of the crisis up close. Very close. The insecurity that engulfs American communities reveals itself in a rash of stress -induced illnesses: high blood pressure , stroke, kidney failure, heart disease , mental illness.

"We are seeing people in their 40s with sky-high blood pressures," Pamela Young, a registered nurse from Oviedo, told me.

"One was in the midst of a heart attack , and all he could think of was being afraid of losing income and racking up a bill he couldn't afford."

Everyone is aware that without a good payroll check, the bottom falls out: Money for a quality diet is gone; recreation and exercise take a backseat; getting to dentists and doctors is for emergencies only, if at all. Even for kids.

A future of uncertainty is all-consuming, and constant worry takes a terrible toll. We hear this from patients — and throughout the communities in which we live — every day.

At the hospital, we nurses also see the results of a health-care system that is about the bottom line, not about providing health care for all. Millions of Americans cannot keep up with galloping health-insurance premiums — up 40 percent in a decade.

Last year, the number of Americans denied access to medically necessary treatment increased 60 percent.

Anna Smith, an emergency room nurse in Oakland , Calif., said, "We are seeing more kids, and we are seeing sicker kids. They are forced to use our ER as their primary-care provider, and so when they come to us, they are really sick. Asthma flares are more prevalent and more deadly. Diets are high in fat, and children are developing pancreatitis, usually an adult illness."

If there is anyone who understands the logic and necessity of an expanded Medicare for all, it is nurses. We support new federal legislation for single-payer health care — the Sanders/McDermott American Health Security Act of 2011.

We nurses are bewildered when we read headlines about corporate profit rates reaching a 60-year high in 2010 and the same companies paying few taxes. We know our tax dollars went for a huge Wall Street bailout and see reports of billions of dollars in bonus pools, yet "bankers making $5 million to $10 million a year don't think they are making enough," according to Atlantic magazine.

In Vanity Fair, economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz recently wrote, "An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year — an economy like America's — is not likely to do well over the long haul."

It is time to take back the promise of this country and share the nation's vast resources fairly. We have a plan: The Main Street Contract for the American People. It is not about any political party but about goals that will make the difference. They include jobs at living wages and plans to reinvest in America; equal access to education, health care, good housing and protection from hunger; a secure retirement; a safe, clean and healthy environment; and a just taxation system.

We will start identifying legislation — state and federal — that furthers these goals before giving support in coming elections.

Nurses have said we help bring people into the world. Now we are going to follow through on behalf of your quality of life, for your children, for our future. We know that advocating for our patients means raising our voices beyond the bedside. It is time to cure this crisis once and for all.

Jean Ross of Minneapolis , Minn., is a registered nurse and co-president of the 170,000-member National Nurses United.

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