Nurses march on Capitol, call on governor to restore general assistance medical care

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Snow was falling and lots of folks were dressed in red, but while the day was Columbus Day, not Christmas, Governor Tim Pawlenty clearly was the Grinch whose unilateral budget cuts will take health care away from the state’s neediest citizens. Several hundred union members, most of them nurses, marched on the state capitol Monday to urge the governor to restore cuts to General Assistance Medical Care.

Cuts to GAMC will leave 33,000 low-income Minnesotans without health care, said the Minnesota Nurses Association, which organized the march and a rally in the Capitol rotunda. Speakers at the rally reported that many of the people threatened with loss of their health care are veterans, the disabled, the mentally ill, or the homeless.

The rotunda echoed with chants, including, “Pawlenty, Pawlenty, it’s not fair. Everyone deserves health care” and “Pawlenty’s greed hurts those in need.” Nurses also were blowing shrill, loud whistles.

“Watch out Minnesota, when nurses get mad,” said Linda Slattengren, R.N., president of the 20,000-member Minnesota Nurses Association, as she addressed the rally. She said Pawlenty’s cuts to GAMC were “outrageous” and “unethical.”march at CapitolSnow fell as several hundred marchers climbed the capitol steps chanting “Pawlenty, Pawlenty it’s not fair. Everyone deserves health care.”

Photo by Steve Share

“Our absentee Governor of Minnesota is choosing to eliminate health care for our most vulnerable citizens,” Slattengren said, referring to Pawlenty’s frequent traveling as he tests the waters for a possible presidential campaign. “Governor Pawlenty, we can’t let your political ambitions hurt Minnesotans.”

“Nursing in Minnesota will not stand by and be silent,” Slattengren said. She urged full restoration of the cuts to GAMC. “Stop standing between nurses and our patients.”

“Our sacred texts tell us, those who do harm to the poor insult their maker,” said the Rev. Doug Mitchell, associate pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, speaking at the rally on behalf of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition.

“Only in the welfare of the entire community can each of us find our own welfare,” he said. “The State of Minnesota needs to act on its traditional values of care for the most vulnerable.”

demonstration at CapitolJulie Combellick, (above), an RN at Immanuel St. Joseph Hospital in Mankato, blew her whistle. Tiny Macheel, (below, center), a 20-year state employee who works as a psychiatric nurse at the Community Behavioral Health Hospital in Fergus Falls, said, “This is very important. We cannot have a healthy state or healthy communities without healthy people.”

Photos by Steve Sharenurses march at Capitol

Rally speaker Stephanie Wells, R.N., a nurse at Hennepin County Medical Center, described GAMC as “a lifeline for my patients.” She said the result of eliminating GAMC will mean more people coming to the emergency room for big problems that might have been stopped earlier if patients had had access to health care. “I see this in the intensive care unit all the time,” she said.

Wells urged compassion for the poor and sick and mentally ill. “They didn’t ask for these diseases. Anyone could get these diagnoses.”

“When we choose not to take care of the poorest among us, it hurts us all,” Wells said.

The rally also heard from Robert Fisher, a GAMC recipient. He owned his own business, he related, when “the perfect storm” of misfortune cost him his business and left him homeless and penniless and facing a major health crisis. “Fortunately, there was a program called GAMC,” he said.

Without the health care Fisher received through GAMC, he said, “I would most probably be dead.” Fisher said he is now recovered from his health crisis and starting a new business. And, he added, “as I venture back into tax-paying, I will gladly pay my share” to support GAMC.

As the rally concluded, MNA president Slattengren and MNA president-elect Linda Hamilton went to Governor Pawlenty’s office to present a list of demands:

  • Stop standing between nurses and patients;
  • Come back to Minnesota to solve the GAMC crisis;
  • Support meaningful federal health care reform;
  • Restore GAMC by raising revenues.

The Governor was not in the office.

Steve Share edits the Labor Review, the official publication of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. Learn more at www.minneapolisunions.org