NEW YORK NURSE: April 2009
by Mark Genovese
Claiming the tough economy is forcing their hands, some public-sector healthcare employers have begun seeking bids to sell or lease services to private corporations. This is the situation confronting the registered nurses employed by Cayuga County in central New York.
County legislators are considering a proposal to privatize the county’s home health agency and nursing home. Nurses are concerned that a private company will not put patients first.
“As employees of a public health agency, our nurses provide care to patients other agencies refuse to serve,” said Karen Wida, NYSNA nursing representative. “But a private company’s first responsibility is to its own bottom line. A private company doesn’t have to accept patients with the most serious conditions, those with problems, or those located in the most rural communities. They can pick and choose who will bring them the most revenue.”
The RNs have collected more than 1,000 signatures so far from local residents opposing the privatization scheme and have run advertisements in cooperation with other county workers who belong to CSEA.
Unfortunately, decisions are being made with inadequate information, according to the RNs. “Legislators are doing this without investigating how quality of care will be affected or the financial impact on county taxpayers,” Wida said.
RNs employed by another upstate county, Chemung, took steps to prevent privatization through contractual means. Their new four-year contract prohibits the county from privatizing programs that include bargaining unit positions for the life of the agreement.
Public-sector RNs may have recent history on their side. Over the past few years, privatization of public healthcare services was unsuccessful in Florida, Wisconsin, and Ontario. There, private services cut corners and clients to maximize profits. As a result, working conditions deteriorated, employee turnover increased, and quality of care declined.