MN VOICES | “I’m Ellen, the nurse”


I was in a hurry. I didn’t want to be delayed but the old man looked so desperate that I still stopped to listen. The old man told me that he was a Marine. He showed me his Veteran ID proudly, but then he said that he had broken his finger. He had no health insurance and asked me for money to get his finger fixed.

I was on my way to meet Ellen Lafans, also known as “Ellen, the Nurse,” who is fighting for single payer universal health care coverage.

I thought, “This has to be destiny,” that I experienced the complicated health situation first-hand on the day I would meet a woman who thinks that health care is a human right.

In her own words
by Ellen LaFans

Here are the facts. We are now 39th in the world for the quality of our health care. We die sooner than people in other developed countries. We spend twice what other countries spend and we die sooner. The current system is not sustainable and is hurting all of us. 

No one is protected in this country yet we are the wealthiest country in the world. It would not cost more. A recent study done by Growth and Justice showed that a typical family would save about 1,200 dollars a year at least and I expect it would be more savings than this because among other things we would also be getting preventative medicine.

It has been said that the poorest man in England has better health care than the richest man in the United States…. think about this. 

We need to look toward creating a single payer system where everyone would have health care like in other countries such as Canada. Canadians don’t lose their homes, go bankrupt and die for lack of health care and are actually very satisfied with what they have. The health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and big corporations don’t want you to know about this. Don’t believe the false lies you hear that are fed to you by the insurance company. They developed this propaganda. 

We need a health care revolution in this country. Join us and push and demand your legislators to help us create this. The life you save maybe your own and we can’t afford to do otherwise! 


Ellen, the Nurse. This is her name and her occupation but it is also her motivation. “Hi I’m Ellen, the Nurse. That’s what I am,” she repeats several times, like a mantra.

Ellen Lafans has met people who suffered a lot, because she has been a nurse for 35 years. She has seen desperate, hopeless people and she has experienced that people are dying because they have no health insurance. “Something like an ear infection can kill you, if you don’t go to see a doctor,” she said.

Lafans was born in Iowa, but moved with her family to Rochester, Minnesota when she was ten. Living in this city, where the worldwide renowned Mayo Clinic is based, she experienced how good health care could work.

In her 35-year-long career as a nurse in a Minneapolis clinic, Nurse Ellen never really questioned why people didn’t have health insurance. This was just the system: some people had health insurance and some did not.

Then, in 2004, she witnessed the death of her brother Rodger, and she got involved in the fight for health care.

Rodger had to suffer and to struggle with mental illness all his life, but in 2004, his life was really falling apart. His marriage broke apart, and with that he lost his health insurance. His wife was the one who worked and provided health insurance. Rodger was all the time concerned about losing his health insurance because it was essential to him so he could get treatment for his mental illness.

Lafans, who had always had a very strong relationship to Rodger and cared for him a lot, will always bear in mind the last conversation they had.

Their last conversation was about Rodger’s fear of losing his health insurance. Right after that, he committed suicide.

“Eva, this conversation sticks in my mind, Eva,” she addressed me forcefully. I was impressed by this woman who opened up to me and told me her extremely personal story.

Lafans wants to tell this story because she thinks that those personal stories can change the current situation. People become aware of the fact that others are dying when they hear those personal stories.

After her brother committed suicide, Lafans started to question the system and the powerful sources behind it. She started to get educated on this topic, gained a master’s degree in health system administration and encountered the organization, Health Care for All Minnesota. There she found wonderful people who also try to change increase awareness of the lack of health care for all.

In the United States, said Lafans, 45,000 people are dying every year because they have no health insurance. 550.000 people in Minnesota and 50 million people in the nation don’t have health care. According to the World Health Organization report of 2000, the United States ranks in 37th place for quality of health care.

Lafans throws around with these numbers, repeats them several times and uses long pauses. It’s as if these numbers are enemies she has to fight against and which should be engraved in everyone’s memory.

Her emphasis and repetition work. I won’t forget them.