Nurses for Single Payer, Part II

In 2015, Chris Tanner retired and was looking for something to do. Dr. Tanner is Professor Emeritus at Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing where she served on faculty for nearly 35 years. At OHSU, she served as Director of Research Development and Utilization, Associate Dean for the Undergraduate Programs, and Interim Dean. She taught in the baccalaureate, masters and doctoral programs and was the recipient of many teaching awards. From 2001-2010, Dr. Tanner was one of the principal leads in the development of the Oregon Consortium for Nursing Education. In that role, she traveled to nursing schools around the state and worked with deans and faculty, getting to know them well. When Chris mentioned her interest in HCAO, I thought hard about a meaningful role for her, and I took her to coffee with Sam Metz. Sam proposed that Chris use her experience, skills, and contacts around Oregon to recruit nursing educators and leaders as advocates, engaging them with an educational presentation about universal, publicly funded health care. It made sense on several fronts:

  • Nurses work with people who need health care; we hear our patients’ stories, and we “get it” about the devastating consequences of care being denied or curtailed because of access issues.

  • Nurses are valued and respected members of their communities – we consistently rank at the top of polls asking Americans which profession they trust the most.

  • Nurses live and work in every community in Oregon, and are involved and active in community concerns.

By 2015, Nurses for Single Payer had lost some of its energy, enthusiasm, and involvement – of course, Big Nurse was still showing up at rallies and events, and nurses were active in HCAO and in Jobs with Justice, but NFSP was floundering; it had been somewhat subsumed by the HCAO Healthcare Provider Caucus, and that group was also struggling. Carole Most, who was one of the early activists, proposed that we try to re-energize the nurses. About six of us, including longtime members Betsy Zucker, Kathy Birch, and David Young, got together at Chris’s house and listened to her proposal – we would reach out to nursing educators in the 14 nursing programs around the state – go to meet with them in person to outline our plan for Oregon nurses to become leaders in the campaign for universal health care. Through these nursing leaders, we would recruit nursing students, hospital and community nurses, nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives in communities all over Oregon!

Currently, NFSP has plans for presentations at three schools in the Portland area; we have engaged the Oregon Student Nurses Association and will be speaking and tabling at their annual meeting in February; we are developing a curriculum that we hope can be used for practicing nurses to get continuing education credits through the Oregon Nurses Association; and we are pursuing other opportunities to present at nursing schools around the state and at professional meetings sponsored by various nursing organizations. We have a website, a Power Point presentation about the rationale for single payer from a nurse’s point of view; NFSP buttons which we wear and distribute to other nurses. We meet on a regular basis to discuss potential initiatives and to develop those that we have started.

Last year in New York, the New York State Nursing Association (NYSNA) was instrumental in getting a single-payer bill passed in the New York State House of Delegates. On a national level, National Nurses United has endorsed Bernie Sanders for President because of his stand on single-payer health care and has made Medicare for All a principal part of their “Nurses Campaign to Heal America.” In Oregon, nurses believe that we have a key role in achieving universal, publicly funded health care and we are bringing our energy and enthusiasm to working toward that goal – everybody in, nobody out!

--Nancy Sullivan, NFSP, Portland Metro Council