NEW YORK NURSE: December 2010
by Mark Genovese
This is what NYSNA members in Onondaga, Erie, and Westchester counties want to know. Their local governments claim the sluggish economy has left their budgets no longer able to absorb the escalating costs of providing health care. Concerned about the overall impact on the public’s health, RNs have been fighting efforts to make severe cuts in personnel and programs, contract services to private corporations, or sell off these services entirely.
Cayuga and Cortland counties have already made decisions to sell their public home care agencies. As this edition went to press, similar proposals were being considered in Delaware and Madison counties.
Registered nurses at Van Duyn Home and Hospital in Syracuse fear that Onondaga County is turning its back on its most vulnerable residents. County officials are seeking bids to turn over operation of Van Duyn to a private corporation. Nurses believe this would be an expensive mistake.
“The nurses are concerned because private industry’s goal of earning a profit for shareholders directly conflicts with the long history and mission of Van Duyn, which for decades has been to provide care to those most in need,” said NYSNA Nursing Representative Roger Bull.
“If the county allows Van Duyn to be turned over to a bidder from outside the area, the tax dollars residents pay to support locally based care through Medicare and Medicaid will be lost to some corporate CEO in another city,” Bull said. This is why NYSNA is waging a media campaign insisting that – if privatization is a foregone conclusion – the contractor be local, that the facility continue to operate in the public’s interest, and that it continue to provide care regardless of a person’s ability to pay.
Onondaga County is also seeking private bids for nursing services at the county jail. Nurses believe this issue affects the entire community because correctional health facilities encounter a range of challenges in controlling the spread of contagious diseases. Given the national track record of private prison healthcare, it is expected that if the facility is privatized, the RNs will see their staffing reduced and patient load increased.
Meanwhile, the Westchester County Healthcare Corporation has already stopped providing nursing services to the County Department of Correction facilities. “Nurses in the Correctional Health Facility endured months of anxiety as it became clear the future would be uncertain,” said NYSNA Nursing Representative Karen May. The contract was granted to Correct Care Solutions of Nashville, TN, which has been named in 140 federal lawsuits since 2004.
RNs employed by Erie County say the 2011 budget proposed by County Executive Chris Collins continues to make severe cuts in health services. RNs from the bargaining unit said the healthcare system can’t tolerate any more cuts.
The upcoming budget would eliminate the personnel necessary to run vital programs that immunize the public against contagious disease, coordinate bioterrorism response, test for lead poisoning and tuberculosis, and provide care to those who would otherwise be without healthcare access. Some of the programs are state mandated and require an RN to be on duty.
Cuts are also proposed in health response personnel in county offices that have high public traffic. These RNs handle more than 200 emergencies each year involving diabetes, cardiac problems, asthma, and injuries. Other cuts would interrupt the continuity of care at the youth detention center and further erode health services provided at the County Holding Center, which after three recent deaths, is being monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“This year, Erie County will receive a refund of nearly $12 million in Medicaid funds,” said NYSNA Labor Representative Gaen Hooley. “The nurses want to know: Will the county act in a responsible manner and dedicate this money back into health care or will they continue to waste taxpayer dollars?”