ere’s what nurses know about the body of our country: healthy leadership is required to pass healthy legislation, and that makes for a healthy society. If our leaders don’t have the political will to fight for healthy legislation — Senator Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All Act, S.1804 being a prime example — then we are, as a country, fundamentally unwell. And it’s our duty, as nurses, to facilitate healing.
To that end, over 1,000 nurses from across the country assembled this week in San Francisco for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) convention. We gathered in solidarity to set the upcoming goals for our organization, and to learn — both from each other and from speakers including Senator Sanders, Dr. Jane O’Meara Sanders, California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Nina Turner, Van Jones and Eve Ensler.
But make no mistake: Nurses also came together to fight for a healthcare system that puts people over profits.
“We have to ask this question of our elected officials: Are you for the people, or are you for the insurance industry?” said Cathy Kennedy, RN, in a panel entitled Why RNs Organize for Improved Medicare for All. “To bring healthcare justice, it’s going to take a mass movement, it’s going to take all of us fighting so that no one suffers or dies because of a political commitment to the insurance industry instead of to people.”
Kennedy’s comments landed to thunderous applause from nurses who know that the lives lost in this broken system where 28 million people are uninsured, and millions more are under-insured, will continue to pass through our hands — until there is radical change.
As republicans attempt to advance horrific healthcare legislation, including Graham/Cassidy, nurses know that — although we must fight to ensure this legislation does not pass — it is not good enough just to play defense. Acting solely to save the Affordable Care Act still leaves millions of our patients’ lives hanging in the balance. That’s why, for decades, we’ve been doing the offensive work to advance a system that actually supports public health.
And the time is now to demand that our leaders legislate this system into existence. The time is NOW for single payer/Medicare for all. Fortunately, some incredible elected officials are right there with the nurses in this fight.
Senator Bernie Sanders, of course, is paramount among them.
“Today, we stand together in saying that in this great country, healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” said Sen. Sanders, in a San Francisco speech, as part of our convention. “The function of a rational healthcare system is not to make billions in profit for the drug companies and the insurance companies. The function of a rational healthcare system is to provide healthcare to all people when they need it.”
Sen. Sanders’ use of the word “rational” bears repeating, given that for years it has been difficult even to get most democrats to pay more than lip service to single payer, or to fight as hard as RNs do to ensure that their constituents do not die unnecessarily. As nurses, we cannot stand by and allow politicians to talk the talk any longer.
It’s time for politicians to walk the walk of single payer.
That’s why nurses are throwing our ardent support behind leaders such as California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who we proudly endorsed as the next governor. At our convention, Newsom voiced his commitment to fight for Medicare for all, both nationally, and statewide, with the CNA-sponsored bill SB562.
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“There’s no reason to wait around on universal healthcare and single-payer in California,” said Newsom. “It’s time to move 562. It’s time to get it out of committee.”
Nurses were proud to hear Newsom hold politicians to task for thinking defensive work on healthcare was enough.
“This whole idea that we can only do one thing at a time [fight for Medicare for All or against the ACA repeal] is insulting, not just absurd. Maybe that’s fundamentally the problem with our democratic party: We have no positive alternative vision,” said Newsom. “[With S.1804, the Medicare for All Act of 2017], we have a positive alternative that includes all Americans … to advance a principle that’s been advanced all around the world successfully.”
With millions of our patients still un- and under-insured, defending the status quo is not good enough.
Nurses could not agree more — which is why, in the name of our patients, we know we must hold our leaders accountable for being more like Gavin and Bernie, working to ensure their constituents are kept healthy and safe. To that end, when it comes to guaranteed healthcare as a human right, if the nurses can’t convince our elected officials, we will have to become them.
Nurses are running for office.
In a radical act of patient advocacy, some of our nurse members — especially in the past year — have become inspired to carry their oath of protection into the halls of power. We are so proud of registered nurses like Dotty Nygard, who is running for Congress in California’s District 10 and Pam Darpel who, after working on Sen. Sanders’ presidential campaign, ran for and won an executive board member seat in the Johnson County, Kansas, Democrats.
“When I ran to be a [delegate for Bernie Sanders], I had to speak before the state committee, and I didn’t even know what it was,” Darpel laughed. “Things have changed a bit. “
“I see nurses not just as advocates for bedside care; we go beyond that.” — Dotty Nygard, RN
Across the country, our nurse members have begun figuring out how to serve as delegates, statewide and nationally, and to seek leadership positions in their communities and beyond, like Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, RN, who was elected to El Cerrito, California’s city council, and who is now running for state assembly. In other words, if our elected officials won’t walk the walk of guaranteed healthcare, by our sides, nurses are learning how to walk into their offices — and take a seat.
“You’re the intersection of patient care, policy making, and political activism,” Newsom told nurses at our convention. “In the vernacular of Dr. [Martin Luther King Jr.], and of the nurses, you’re ‘the thermostat, not the thermometer.’ You don’t just take the temperature, you SET the temperature.”
I couldn’t be more proud to see the temperature changing in this country, when it comes to Medicare for all. And I know it’s because nurses care enough to do whatever it takes to protect those whose lives are in our hands. Even if it means working the night shift, then sleeping for a few hours, and waking up to spend the day working on a campaign for public health, or a campaign for public office.
We will win this fight. Nurses never give up on our patients. And we never will.