NEW YORK NURSE: April 2010
by Erin Silk
Hundreds of NYSNA members converged at the State Capitol for a rally on March 8 to tell lawmakers that budget cuts to healthcare hurt everyone.
RNs rearranged schedules and climbed aboard buses in the early morning hours to fight for a budget that puts patient care first. With a billion dollars in proposed cuts to health care at stake, the nurses understood what their presence at the rally meant.
“I’m not a politician, but I know that pulling money away from health care will jeopardize the safety of New Yorkers. If our hospitals are just able to take care of patients on a regular day, they won’t be able to respond to disasters or epidemics like H1N1. We need to have people in hospitals ready to take care of us when we need them,” said NYSNA member Donna Florkiewicz, a registered nurse at Ellis Hospital.
The staggering cuts include increased assessments totaling $250 million and decreases in provider reimbursements of $562 million, which ultimately translates to fewer nurses and unsafe patient care.
The nurses were joined at the rally by unions and management alike. Speakers from Maimonides Medical Center, Montefiore Medical Center, and the National Federation of Nurses warned that a budget crisis cannot be allowed to escalate to an unprecedented healthcare crisis.
NYSNA president Karen Ballard urged lawmakers to consider how the proposed cuts will severely limit access to care and endanger patient safety. “This struggle is not about our jobs, but is instead about the type of care that we are able to provide to New York’s frailest and most vulnerable citizens,” she said. Ballard addressed the enthusiastic crowd and acknowledged that the state is facing deteriorating economic conditions but asked the Legislature, “What is the value of a person’s life?”
ssemblyman Richard Gottfried, a longtime champion of health care, thanked the nurses and urged them to continue their fight to educate lawmakers. He reminded fellow legislators that “this budget deficit is not because we have been spending wildly on health care and education in this state. We do spend a lot on health care and education – that’s because we need to… and it’s smart.”
As history has shown, reducing provider reimbursement rates and increasing taxes will prompt facilities to mitigate shortfalls by reducing direct care staff, primarily nurses. At Goldwater Specialty Hospitals and Nursing Facilities, a hiring freeze has lead to increased patient infection, as the nursing staff struggle to treat scabies and bedsores as a result of unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios.
Florkiewicz spoke to reporters at the rally about the connection between safe staffing levels and quality care. She warned that “people won’t want to become nurses if they think they are going to be overworked and possibly hurt somebody. Nurses are constantly caught between angry patients and visitors and employers who tell them to do more with less. Nurses leave the profession when they become overwhelmed and burned out at work. Cutting money from health care will only make this problem worse.”
Planned to coincide with the rally, NYSNA executed a multi-media campaign to send a clear message to lawmakers that an under-funded budget will endanger patient care.
A digital billboard depicting patients most affected by the cuts ran for the first two weeks in March on I-787 in Albany. The message, intended to capture lawmakers’ attention as they made their way to the Capitol, underscored that the future of New York’s healthcare system cannot be sacrificed to close a budget gap.
In addition to the billboard were petitions to the Governor, print advertisements in local newspapers, and television commercials that aired throughout the state during 6 p.m. evening newscasts. The commercial can be viewed on NYSNA’s website.
As this issue goes to press, New York’s budget is still being debated.
Prior to the rally and campaign kick-off, cuts to TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) awards for nursing students were spared. The Governor exercised the 21 Day Amendment rule and amended his previous recommendation that these awards be reduced from $5,000 to $4,000 for two-year degree programs and eliminated for graduate students. For updates on the budget as they occur, visit nysna.org for the latest information.