The state’s nurses union rallied at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan Tuesday afternoon against proposed Medicaid cuts and budget slashing to city hospitals which, they say, would harm medical responses to a potential second wave of COVID-19 this fall.
The 42,000 member New York State Nurses Association were on the front lines of the contagion this past spring and fear that cuts to the budget would harm their ability to handle a future outbreak and damage the city’s hospital system.
Their concern comes from failed Congressional negotiations on a stimulus plan that would deliver a pandemic and economic aid package to the states. Union leaders and elected officials say Governor Andrew Cuomo indicated that New York may need to raise revenues to continue funding vital services.
The governor has previously threatened major cutbacks in state funding if Washington doesn’t come through with billions of dollars in aid for New York state.
Nurses have joined with elected officials to call for alternatives to budget reductions, including taxing the ultra-wealthy in order to save New York’s healthcare system and economy.
Todd Schultz, a nurse and local union president at Bellevue, said the potential cuts could cripple any future COVID-19 response should there be a resurgence in conjunction with the flu.
“Bellevue nurses helped save New York from ebola and COVID-19, but we won’t be able to save it from the massive budget and Medicaid cuts on the horizon,” Schultz said. “COVID-19 was a reminder that the people of NYC and our entire healthcare system, including private sector hospitals, depend on public sector hospitals to function. Our work is essential and should be fully-funded. If the federal government is not willing to do the right thing and deliver funding to defeat COVID-19 and the economic crisis, New York State and City must step up!”
Nurses from Bellevue joined in the rally, led by nurse Savannah Woods, who worked in the busy Intensive Care Unit at the hospital during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. She said budget cuts not only hurt staff but the public as well.
“I took care of the first COVID positive patient at Bellevue and fell ill,” she recalled. “I was out of work for more than two weeks and during that time, my unit had to struggle with staffing shortages, PPE shortage and a complete transition to everyday patient care. Our nursing staff battles day and night with a shortage in every facet of our work, and despite adversity, maintains the highest level of patient care. Now on top of all these stressors, the city and state are proposing extreme budget cuts that are threatening the livelihood of our fellow New Yorkers.”
City Comptroller and 2021 mayoral candidate Scott Stringer vowed to fight to maintain budgets for the front-line workers at hospitals.
“Our nurses and hospital staff perform critical, heroic work caring for the sick, the elderly, and the young,” Stringer said. “We must stand up for these essential workers and fully fund their lifesaving work. It’s time for the very wealthiest among us to pay their fair share in order to raise revenue and ensure adequate investment in health care. Our nurses, their patients, and all New Yorkers deserve nothing less.”
Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman said he is sponsoring a bill with Assembly Member Deborah Glick that would he said would require the ultra rich to pay more of their “fair share.”
“Nurses have put their lives on the line to save the lives of countless New Yorkers during the pandemic,” Hoylman said. “We owe them more than just our thanks. If the federal government won’t provide the funding we need, we must require the wealthiest New Yorkers to do their civic duty and help their state survive this crisis without devastating cuts to services.”
Demonstrations will be held at every hospital in the state to remind legislators that a resurgence of COVID-19 was a real possibility and that hospitals need to be prepared in any renewed crisis.