Nurses link increasing poverty to health problems, demand Wall St. tax as way of funding solutions


Story Transcript

DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: Nurses in the United States are leading the fight to take on Wall Street. Dozens of actions organized on September 1 and in recent weeks have drawn thousands across the country as nurses led by the National Nurses United union demand a transaction tax on Wall Street to offset the effects of economic hardship that are sending ripples through the nationâ€s health system. The Real News spoke with registered nurse Margaret Shanks at the national NNU conference in California. Shanks serves as president of the NNU affiliated DC Nurses Association.

MARGARET SHANKS, REGISTERED NURSE, PRESIDENT, DC NURSES ASSOCIATION: We are trying to address the fact that nurses across the country are working with less. We have more patients. The patients that donâ€t have health insurance come to our facilities sicker than if they had some type of primary health care insurance. Weâ€re trying to heal America by taxing wall street; we need to take it from the wealthiest and help everyone in the country not just benefit that top 10 percent thatâ€s making all the money it needs to be the entire country.

DOUGHERTY: The NNU has proposed a “Main Street Contract” which could potentially raise $350 billion dollars in public revenues by imposing a 0.5% tax on certain financial trading transactions involving stocks, bonds, and derivatives. Many other countries already impose similar taxes, and nurses are also calling for living wage jobs, access to quality public education, guaranteed health care, secure retirement, fair housing, and safe environmental standards, which are all factors they see as contributing to a
worsening public health crisis.

SHANKS: We are trying to form a contract with the American people and the basis of that is if we were to tax the wall street transactions which is what weâ€re putting forward we could raise enough money to put back into our economy so that everyday working people can have decent jobs, quality education, a secure retirement, food on the table. These are the things that we see as nurses when people come to our ERâ€s or to our facilities that they are lacking basic services because they canâ€t afford it.

DOUGHERTY: Poverty levels in the United States recently climbed to their highest levels in 17 years as 15.1% of Americans found themselves living below the poverty line with millions of single mothers and children hit especially hard in the wake of a worsening economic crisis. The number of uninsured Americans also surged to itâ€s highest levels since the passage of Medicaid and Medicare over 45 years ago with nearly 50 million people living without health coverage. Nurse Shanks says that the increased strain on working families to make ends meet only further contributes to
health problems that nurses are experiencing with greater frequency in hospitals across the country.

SHANKS: Stress makes things not go well with the body you canâ€t eat properly because you canâ€t afford to eat the nutritious foods that you need, you canâ€t feed your children so your stress level goes up even further, your blood pressure goes up, youâ€re having cardiac problems, everything that the body needs and you canâ€t provide eventually it takes its toll, so the patients are foregoing taking medications they canâ€t afford to buy they need them they canâ€t go to primary care doctors because they increase your co-pay, so things you could do for yourself you have to think about it because am I going to pay the health insurance the co-pay to go and see the doctor or try to buy some food to put on the table and put a roof over your head. The finances of the average American worker is just not keeping us above water we are all pretty much drowning.

DOUGHERTY: Many nurses participating in the actions see worsening health indicators and a decline in the quality of health services as tied to broader processes of privatization and budget cuts. President Obamaâ€s health care reform law has already established $155 billion dollars in Medicare reimbursement cuts to hospitals over the next 10 years, and he has proposed further cuts in Medicare and Medicaid to help pay for his recently announced $447 billion dollar jobs plan. Workers in the health services sector are seeing an increase in the closure of public hospitals as both private non-profit and for-profit hospitals continue to expand.

SHANKS: The larger corporations that own these hospitals they are benefiting, their profit margin is through the ceiling, so they are already making benefits and theyâ€re profiting on a sick America. By privatizing hospitals, they make the money, they control the dollars and cents, Medicare is one of the programs that will help the poor people but when you privatize you still have to come up with co-pays. You have to pay for your medications. You donâ€t receive the assistance of a public system. Most of the country needs that public assistance just to make ends meet in their day-to-day lives.

DOUGHERTY: Nurses are not only feeling the pressure of unsafe nurse to patient ratios and other side-effects of budget cuts, they are also facing threats to their benefits and pay packages. A number of strikes have already been held this year, and nurses declare that there will be more if fair contracts are not negotiated with management.

SHANKS: Nurses across the country are being attacked when our contracts are up for renewal. I mean, we have nursing units striking. I mean, we recently had strikes in Minnesota. California may be having a strike in the very near future within the week, because, they want to take back the benefits that the contracts already have. They want to make the nurses pay more into their health care and when they attack and try to take away form the benefits weâ€ve
tried to get it makes it harder on the profession to draw other people in.

DOUGHERTY: The nurses have vowed to continue organizing demonstrations as part of their pledge to heal America and tax Wall Street. They are becoming a more visible leading voice in the growing movement to hold Wall Street accountable to an increasingly frustrated and struggling American public. This is David Dougherty for The Real News Network.

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