Nurses Speak Out November

Nurses Speak Out:
Keynote speech at the HCAO Fall Membership Meeting

        Benjamin Gerritz and Rachel Prusak                at Fall Membership Meeing

        Benjamin Gerritz and Rachel Prusak
               at Fall Membership Meeing

--Rachel Prusak, MSN, APRN, FNP-C
I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the HCAO statewide meeting.

My name is Rachel Prusak. I’ve been a nurse for twenty years and a nurse practitioner for ten. Currently I'm serving our most vulnerable home-bound population in the Portland Metro area. I’m an active member of the Oregon Nurses Association and the vice president of Nurses for Single Payer (NFSP).

The American Nurses Association code of ethics establishes the ethical standard for our profession in its passionate call for "all nurses and nursing organizations to advocate for the protection of human rights and social justice." It states, "Nursing is committed to the welfare of the sick, injured and vulnerable in society." Since our organization shares these views it follows that we believe healthcare is a human right. It is not a business! I’ll say it again, It is a Human right!!!!!

I’ve been asked to talk about the organization NFSP today. The small but mighty organization, began six years ago at the 2011 Oregon Single Payer Conference. I’m told, it grew out of the Portland Jobs with Justice Health Care Committee. It was there two amazing nurses met and the seed was planted. Betsy Zucker and David Young, who are still active board members, knew it was important to mobilize and publicize the voices of nurses in the fight for universal health care. They organized nurses at the conference to exchange ideas. From there they continued to meet…. And so, began NFSP….

They started gathering in members’ homes, planning for lobby days and rallies in Salem. At one such rally, NFSP Pins caught the attention of current president, Carole Most and current board member, Kathy Birch.  NFSP was one of the earliest groups to formally endorse the 2011 single payer bill, The Act for Health Care for All Oregon, introduced by then Representative Michael Dembrow, who has always championed our movement.  We were also one of the earliest groups who voiced willingness to join Health Care for All Oregon at the founding meeting in 2012. Nurses are not afraid to join a fight that is right even when it’s not popular!

NFSP continued to gain the attention of many passionate nurses, among them Christine Tanner, a respected professor at OHSU, who educated nurses for nearly 35 years; Nancy H. Sullivan, a nurse midwife and community activist; and Tom Sincic, who we all know now as the current President of HCAO. The nursing leaders I’ve mentioned educated students, nurses, nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives in communities throughout Oregon about single payer.

In 2016, we incorporated as a nonprofit, and several nurses like myself joined forces with the original nurses who birthed the movement. Relying on each other we became stronger. We are committed to ensure nurses are representing this movement at rallies, panel discussions and house parties. We are collaborating with organizations like Oregon Nurses Association, Portland Jobs with Justice, Physicians for a National Health Program, and the faith-based organizations in the community. We do this because we know a person’s housing, employment, and faith are all factors that determine their health. Our goal is to not only support and grow the movement but to form relationships and partnerships.

We believe the only way to bring about real change is to mobilize and organize at the grassroots level against big money interests. We believe nurses have an important role to play in guiding our country to join the rest of the modern world in guaranteeing healthcare as a human right. When people ask me, “Why are you and other nurses protesting and going to elected official’s offices?” I say, because nurses belong everywhere our patient’s health is in jeopardy. We belong where our voice can make a difference. Whether it's in Flint, Michigan fighting for clean water, North Dakota fighting against dirty oil, or in Oregon fighting for single payer. We belong everywhere so we can protect our patients. 

Nurses are the ones treating the uninsured and underinsured who come to us sicker or lose their lives due to lack of health care. On our days off, you might find us spending our free time fighting against the greed of the pharmaceutical industry because we know firsthand the way in which our patients suffer when they must choose between paying for their medication or their electric bill. Moving forward, we plan to keep our commitment to educate Oregon about single payer. Some of our current plans in the upcoming year include our continued support to those offering to host house parties. For those interested, we will show up with a documentary and support a discussion. Next week, we present at OHSU as part of Health Equity Week. We are collaborating with PNHP, with a goal to host lectures starting next year at OHSU. We’ll continue to find ways to strengthen our relationship with Our Nurses Association. For example, currently one of our active board members,  J.r. McLain, sits on their Health Policy cabinet, who by the way was elected by nurses of Oregon by running on a single payer platform.  We will continue to be front and center at rallies and show up to meet with our elected officials.

Nurses are not wealthy, but we are well-connected. We don’t have rich lobbyists, but we are 50,000 strong in Oregon. We are a movement of individuals working together, who believe nurses should have a greater say in the direction of health care in our country. Nurses have listened to and cared for all segments of our populace: working families, elderly, mothers and children, and we are prepared to advocate for them in the political arena.

I wish health care wasn’t a political football game. But until health care is no longer threatened by politicians, WE will stand up to the corrupt, ineffective and wasteful healthcare system that enriches the pharmaceutical and for-profit insurance companies at the expense of our hard-working citizens.

The members of NFSP did not aspire to become nurses only to spend countless hours at a computer, filling out forms or arguing with insurance companies on behalf of our patients. We did not seek out nursing just to watch our patients denied access to simple, cost effective treatment. We became nurses to fight for our patients. The United States is the wealthiest nation on earth.  So why do millions of citizens go without low-cost medical care and affordable medications, the absence of which results in complications, costly hospitalization and needless suffering!  Why is it that a baby born in the U.S. is less likely to see its first birthday than a baby born in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, or even Cuba? Why do we tolerate a system in which senior citizens are rationing medication because of outrageously high costs? Why is the U.S. the only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee healthcare to all people as a right? These are the tough questions our STATE needs to answer and NFSP AND HCAO ARE ready to lead this discussion. The time is now to move away from the current dysfunctional system, join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee comprehensive health care to all.

This movement that includes all of us in this room, started with only a handful of members. HCAO went from 25 supporting member organizations in 2012 to 120 TODAY. Imagine what we can achieve in another year or in another two years. Let’s commit to our goal for a single payer measure to be on the ballot in 2020!  Clearly, we can't wait for the politicians to lead us. They are too busy repealing health care. The reality is that it will take a massive progressive movement LIKE OURS to turn our STATE in a healthier direction. So, how will we do this? Well, there are many ways we can get involved. Some of us can call, write and meet with our representatives. Some of us can attend rallies and marches. Some of us can join door knocking campaigns. Some of us can donate money. AND some of can have house parties to encourage others to join our movement.  I ask, how will you show up?

If you believe in health care for all, please find your way of helping to grow the movement. Grassroots advocacy is all about banding together like-minded people for a single purpose. When we speak with one voice we can begin to change the world around us.  We know the question, and we know the answer.  Every person in Oregon should have equal access to comprehensive, equitable, affordable, publicly funded, high-quality healthcare. Improved Medicare for ALL. Everybody In! Nobody Out!!