Nursing the debt machine
October 10, 2011 -- Recent news items have highlighted some aggressive policy advocacy by major nursing groups on health issues related to current U.S. economic problems. Since June, long before the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests, the National Nurses United (NNU) has been protesting the financial industry's role in the nation's economic woes and calling for a one-percent tax on Wall Street transactions in order to fund improved health care and other vital needs that are under threat. Over time, NNU's efforts have generated increasing and often helpful press coverage. For example, on September 1, the Orlando Sentinel ran a good piece by Marni Jameson about the 61 protest rallies NNU had coordinated the day before at the district offices of Members of Congress nationwide. The rallies urged legislators to impose the one-percent tax. The article quotes one local nurse as saying that she is seeing sicker patients because people can't afford their medications and those without health insurance wait too long to seek care. We commend the Sentinel for this significant coverage of nursing advocacy. And we salute NNU for advocacy that reflects a holistic focus on some roots of the nation's health problems and shows that nurses can be courageous public health leaders.
The Orlando Sentinel article is headlined "Nurses union holds dozens of rallies for Wall Street tax to 'Heal America.'" It reports that about 30 protestors gathered outside the Orlando office of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, carrying signs saying "Heal America Tax Wall Street" and chanting "Human need not corporate greed." The protestors, some of whom later met with the Senator's state director, were attending one of 61 rallies that the 170,000-member NNU had sponsored across the nation. Workers from other unions and community groups joined the nurses.
Rally organizer Rebekah Patnode reportedly said that the goal was to "make Wall Street pay for the devastation it has caused on Main Street." She said that the union was trying to get a Member of Congress to write a bill imposing the tax, which she added was not a new idea since (in the piece's words) "several European countries already have a financial transaction tax." The piece explains that the "activists are seeking a 1 percent tax on every transaction done on Wall Street, which would be used to help fund schools, create jobs and improve health care." To its credit, the article includes the response from Rubio's state director, who reportedly told the nurses that the Senator "is generally opposed to more taxes," though "he is in favor of tax reform, which he thinks will result in a flatter, fairer tax."
The Sentinel piece includes more background from NNU representatives at the national and local levels. National co-president Karen Higgins notes that "America's nurses see every day the broad declines in health and living standards that are a direct result of patients and families struggling with lack of jobs, medical bills and homelessness." And more specifically, Central Florida Regional Hospital nurse Karyn Hayduk says that since the recession began
I have seen patients coming into the hospital sicker. They have lost their jobs, can't afford their medication, and put off getting medical care because they don't have insurance. We're giving a message to Washington.
The piece does a very good job of conveying the essence of the protest action in a short space. It might have given a little more detail about which programs the nurses want to fund with the proposed transaction tax, but its quotes do place the focus on the human needs the nurses say are not being met, and particularly on how hard economic conditions undermine health. The piece even includes the context that the basic idea is not some kooky thing NNU just dreamed up, but in fact is part of the tax policies of some other developed nations. All of this creates a short but fairly compelling portrait of nurses as strong, engaged professionals advocating for their patients based on an understanding of the big health picture, however difficult it might be for such a tax bill to actually become law in the current U.S. political environment.
We commend NNU for its usual spirited patient advocacy, as well as the Sentinel and Marni Jameson for this helpful coverage.