Busloads of health care professionals delivered petitions to local Congressmen in Riverside County and San Diego County on March 17, calling on them to protect and improve Americans’ access to quality, affordable health care, not weaken it.
In Riverside County, many arrived to Congressman Ken Calvert’s office by bus, and many more came by car. Most are tied directly to Calvert’s district and Riverside County either by residence or because they work at Riverside County hospitals such as Kaiser Riverside, Kaiser Ontario-Vineyard, Pettis Memorial Medical Center and Parkview Community Hospital.
“In health care, we always say, ‘First, do no harm,’” said UNAC/UHCP Treasurer Jettie Deden-Castillo, a Nurse Practitioner since 1979 and resident of Calvert’s congressional district. “I’m concerned about how the new health care proposals will impact all of us. They will make us a much sicker society. The Affordable Care Act focused on prevention and the old saying is true, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Prevention is much more cost effective than treatment later, when a disease or condition has advanced. The outcomes are much better too.”
Elizabeth Hawkins, RN, is a longtime ER nurse at Kaiser Riverside and UNAC/UHCP State Secretary. “I’m here because I care about patients getting care. It’s not about being a Democrat or Republican. I’m a nurse, not a politician. I’m here because the plans being proposed in Congress will throw millions off their insurance, cut Medicaid, and increase costs to the sick and the elderly most of all. Without insurance, people have no access to preventive care. So they come to the emergency room. That’s not what the ER is there for. We ‘treat ‘em and street ‘em,’ as we put it. It’s not the place for prevention, early diagnosis, treatment of chronic diseases or non-emergency surgeries. We must expand access to quality, affordable health care, not restrict it.”
In San Diego County, the bus stopped first at Congressman Hunter’s office in El Cajon. The Congressman wasn’t there, but his Deputy Chief of Staff, Michael Harrison, came outside to talk to the gathered nurses and health care professionals.
“I’m a nurse. I put people first,” said Tim Uliasz, RN, a resident of Hunter’s district and recently retired from Kaiser San Diego. “Congress’s current health care proposal would kick 14 million people off their health insurance. That’s not putting people first.”
“I’m a Republican and a resident of Congressman Hunter’s district,” said Greg Lutz, RN, at Kaiser San Diego. “We’re on the frontlines of healthcare, working with patients every day. We’re here to express our concerns and offer our advice. Congressman Hunter has Kaiser and Sharp Healthcare in his backyard. Not every congress member has that. We know what needs fixing. It’s important that we maintain the safety net, with a plan that extends the most amount of coverage to the maximum number of people for the least cost. We need to maintain MediCal and Medicare, and keep as many health care professionals as possible on the front line.”
Harrison told the crowd that Hunter had not yet decided how he will vote on Speaker Ryan’s health care proposal, and promised to use the nurses as a resource.
Back at Calvert’s office in Riverside County, a delegation of health care professionals walked in and requested to meet with the congressman but neither Calvert nor an aide were available to take comments. The group presented the office with petitions and signed in to request a town hall and a meeting. The delegation then addressed the larger group outside. Said Hawkins, “I am disappointed because I feel our voices need to be heard. This is about patients getting care. That’s first and foremost. I have always advocated for my patients and I will continue to do so.”
“I came out here to tell my congressman that if he votes to support these new health care plans it will have a severe impact on his constituents,” said Deden-Castillo. “Just look at the cuts to the Centers for Disease Control. What happens when the next disease outbreak strikes, the next Ebola or Zika virus? We need to be proactive, not reactionary. For me as a Nurse Practitioner, it’s all about prevention. If millions of women lose insurance they won’t be able to get mammograms. It’s always easier and cheaper to take care of a small problem than when the problem grows. These proposals are dropping dollars to pick up pennies. No one wants to be sick. Everyone wants to be a productive member of society. No one wants to have diabetes—but if it’s caught early, it can be managed. If it advances, it can mean blindness, amputations, early death. Or a lifetime of dialysis treatments, three times a week for four hours a day.”
“I remember a patient who came into the ER,” said Hawkins, “with testicular cancer. This was before the Affordable Care Act. He had no insurance, so he couldn’t get surgery. Sometimes I wonder what happened to him. I had another patient with ovarian cancer. Her husband laid tile. A hard worker, but he couldn’t afford insurance. So they delayed her chemo treatment waiting for the Affordable Care Act to kick in. She probably didn’t survive. We can’t go back there. When it comes to health care we should only take steps forward, not back.
“For me, there are three key issues: affordability, access and outcomes. That’s what I came out here to tell Congressman Calvert. I’ll be paying very close attention to how he votes in Congress.”
The San Diego bus stopped next at Congressman Darrell Issa’s office. The Congressman is in Washington, D.C., but Bill Christiansen, his District Director, met with the delegation of nurses and health care professionals from Kaiser San Diego, Sharp Healthcare and other Southern California hospitals. Charmaine Morales, RN, Vice President of UNAC/UHCP, presented Christiansen with a stack of petitions.
“When it comes to health care we need to take steps forward, not back,” said Charmaine Morales, RN, Executive Vice President of UNAC/UHCP. “As nurses, we’re patient advocates, by calling and the requirements of our license. That’s why we’re stepping up now, to advocate for our patients and communities. Nurses are the most trusted profession in the country. Politicians in Washington are making major decisions right now that will impact the lives and health of millions of Americans. They need to hear from nurses and health care professionals. Their current proposals will hurt a lot of people, particularly our elderly. We need to expand access and lower costs, not the other way around. Our current health care laws can use improvement. But these proposals are going in the wrong direction.”
For more information and footage from March 17, please visit: