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63rd National
UE Convention

Nurses’ Union Leader: Sick System Ready for Reform

Kit Costello
California Nurses Association (CNA)

98convlogo_vsm.gif (2461 bytes)


Kit Costello, Pres.
California Nurses
Association (CNA)


Our health care system is in a state of advanced meltdown," said Kit Costello, president of the California Nurses Association (CNA). "And there’s only one cure for what ails it, and that’s 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 Party’s Interim National Council.

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 you’re sick enough to be admitted to a hospital today, you won’t have the same attention that you would have had five years ago, and that’s 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 it’s really been a painful lesson that we, too, are part of an insecure working class," Costello said. "So we’re 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 CNA’s "Patient Watch" campaign helps to expose how industry greed leads to denial of care and dangerous staffing levels in hospitals, Costello said.

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 don’t know who else," the nurses’ leader said.

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