Kit Costello, Pres.
Our health care system is in a state of advanced meltdown," said Kit
Costello, president of the California Nurses Association (CNA). "And theres
only one cure for what ails it, and thats a single-payer health insurance system
with the same benefits for everybody," she added.
A militant union leader as well as a registered nurse with many years in
direct patient care, Costello serves as co-chair of the Labor Partys Interim
The CNA leader pointed out that management attacks on nurses working
conditions are also an assault on patients.
Due to HMO and Medicare rules, she said, hospitals make money through
quick discharges or by not admitting patients.
The hospitals drive for profits has led to a re-engineering of
patient care, Costello said. "They unilaterally redefined the skill level needed to
perform complex care and substituted cheaper workers while increasing the number of
patients that RNs were responsible for.
"So if youre sick enough to be admitted to a hospital today,
you wont have the same attention that you would have had five years ago, and
thats just a fact," Costello said.
Hospitals have gone on a downsizing binge, replacing nurses and other
skilled workers with lower-paid, lower-skilled workers, the CNA leader reported. Nurses
face speed-up, which brings the constant worry of error.
"For nurses its really been a painful lesson that we, too, are
part of an insecure working class," Costello said. "So were gradually
becoming very united in our insecurity."
The CNA was forced to fight an 18-month war with the Kaiser health care
group to defeat massive wage and benefit takeaways, a war the nurses union won
through a public campaign and a series of brief strikes, Costello said.
A ballot question initiated by CNA helped shift the terms of the debate,
Costello suggested. The legislation would have taxed health care profits and put the money
back into the public health system and outlawed certain compensation arrangements that
cause HMOs and physicians to deny care.
The CNAs "Patient Watch" campaign helps to expose how
industry greed leads to denial of care and dangerous staffing levels in hospitals,
Great fortunes are being made through health industry mergers while nurses
are downsized, doctors told how to practice and patients denied care, Costello said. The
money is there to deliver quality health care to all Americans, she stressed.
"Only a political movement led by trade unions and working people can
get us a health care system that treats us all with equal compassion," Costello
declared. That means a Labor Party, organized as methodically as our unions. "If not
us, then I dont know who else," the nurses leader said.