Nurses can lead fight to save public health care
By SHERRY HALBROOK
Who suffers most when public services are taken over by
the private sector? The public, Candice Owley told PEF
convention delegates attending the annual nurses luncheon
last month in Montreal.
A registered nurse, Owleys activism in the
workplace has led her to become president of the
Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals
and chair of the American Federation of Teachers Health
Care Program and Policy Council.
Owley said her experiences in Wisconsin have given her a
profound respect for the value of keeping public services
public, especially in health care.
The people of New York owe PEF and all of you a
huge debt for saving your public hospitals in your recent
budget fight, Owley told the delegates.
My community was so much worse off after the
130-year-old county hospital where I worked closed.
Everyone could come into that hospital for medical care,
whether they had insurance or not. Many people in that
community are now going without care, Owley said.
The problems arise when private corporations move in and
take over services the public must have, she said,
because they see their first responsibility is to
their investors, not their customers or employees.
When something is privatized, you dont have a
say about it any more. They dont have to hold
public hearings when they want to make changes. At least,
when its a public (government operated) service,
you have a fighting chance to save it, she told the
PEF nurses and other luncheon guests.
Owley said she finds the private sector uses an insidious
strategy to gain control of public services.
First, she said, the private sector pressures government
to reduce funding that supports the public services.
Then, when the services become too weakened to meet the
publics needs, the private sector moves in and
claims it can do the job better. Too often, the
frustrated public hands over the responsibility to the
corporation and then loses control and accountability.
When I was growing up, public service was seen as
noble, Owley said. All of the people communities
depended on most nurses, social workers, postal
workers, teachers and police were public
The tide really began to turn against us in the
1970s during the Reagan presidency, she said.
And in the 80s, profiteers figured out that
health care had become a very good industry to be
When profit entered the equation, pressure mounted
on hospitals to cut costs.
Today, Owley said, the effect of that pressure for lower
costs and higher profits have created an environment
where you need to bring someone with you, when you
go to the hospital as a patient, to advocate for you. You
need to be afraid, especially if you are not a
Unless labor unions, health care professionals and
communities take a stand, Owley said, We are moving
to a time when only the wealthy will have a good quality
She urged the PEF delegates to follow the example of
nurses in Australia, who became fed up with understaffing
and mandatory overtime.
They organized and won over staffing ratios, and
better working conditions. Now, the nurses no longer have
to do any manual lifting. Hospitals in Australia are
required to have lifting equipment built into the
patients rooms, usually right behind the beds.
These are the happiest nurses I have ever
met, Owley said. And in just a few years,
their union became the most powerful union in that
If they can do it, you can do it too.
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