A health-care system that really does prioritize health over profit

BRATTLEBORO — On March 8 - more than 100 days ago - more than 700 nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass., went on strike for better patient care and safer staffing levels.

This situation is not news to me. As a registered nurse who is a former member of the bargaining team for United Nurses and Allied Professionals at the Brattleboro Retreat, I know that no one takes going out on strike lightly. The nurses in Worcester are currently being threatened with termination if they don't get back to work.

Saint Vincent is owned by the Tenet Healthcare Corporation, a Fortune 500 company and the third largest hospital corporation in the country.

Health care in the U.S. is a tangled web of profiteers. To put it simply: hospital administrators and corporations like Tenet will consistently put profit and budget goals ahead of patient care.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Relative Value Scale Update Committee - described by the American Medical Association as “a volunteer group of 32 physicians who advise Medicare on how to value a physician's work” - is busy setting the market prices for health care in the country, and then the insurance companies decide who gets what treatments and for how long.

Having less staff means more profit. Having more patients means more profit. Having sicker people means more profit. These factors drive treatment decisions every moment of every day. I've been on the inside, and I've seen it at work.

Even though I've been a nurse only for the last 12 years, I've seen the decline in patient care and the increase in acuity. No research study has shown that having fewer nurses results in better outcomes for patients, and I can't imagine that it even results in good long-term outcomes for the hospitals.

But still the cuts continue and the workloads ramp up. Nurses burn out and leave the profession, exacerbating the shortage of qualified health-care staff.

There is a way out: single-payer, Medicare for All, universal heath care - whatever version can get enacted will be a good enough start for me. We need to take the steps toward getting profit out of our health-care system and making it humane.

A health-care system that is not focused on profit will naturally focus on prevention and wellness. It's cheaper that way. There would likely be a reduced need for inpatient staffing and a greater need for nurses in community health settings.

With a new administration in the White House and some advocates for real change in the nation's Capitol, we finally have some true potential for movement toward a health-care system that really does prioritize health over profit.

Let's keep the momentum going.

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