“The County is getting out of the business of providing health care services to people who can’t pay,” said a hospital administrator at Kino Community Hospital in Tucson, Ariz., according to employees there. On June 17, the Board of Supervisors held a hearing to privatize the hospital and close the general medical and emergency room services, converting Kino to a private psychiatric facility. The following testimony was given to the Board of Supervisors by a Jobs with Justice activist, in support of the 700 AFSCME union members who work at Kino and the 300,000 people the hospital serves in the predominantly working-class and Hispanic south side of the city and rural Pima County.
I am a nurse. I take care of people when they are at their most vulnerable. When they are speechless and cannot ask for what they need, I speak for them. When they are confronted with an intimidating array of medical procedures and machines, I stand by their side and help them understand what is happening. I comfort in times of fear and hopelessness. I am their advocate.
I am also a patient. I am a nurse who was stricken with a chronic illness and had to learn to be on the other side. I had to walk in the shoes of the unemployed and those without insurance. I had to go on my own personal journey in search of healing in a hostile environment, one without provision for the uninsured. I found Kino Community Hospital; first I worked there as a nurse, later I became a patient. In my descent from a college-educated, middle-class wife and mother to a divorced, chronically ill, single parent without benefits, I left the more affluent east side of town and my three-bedroom, two-bath house to move to a small trailer on the south side of town where it is cheaper. I thought it was only temporary, but it’s now been five years.
The south side has become my home and my community and at Kino Hospital I received better treatment than I have at east-side hospitals that don’t want to treat self-pay patients. Kino had a program I could use, since I made too much for AHCCCS (Medicaid.)
Now you are methodically taking apart my former workplace and my current healthcare setting. You are putting a price tag on my life and the lives of all my neighbors.
People with money always have a voice because they can pay for that voice. Those of us without plush salaries count on you, our elected officials, to be our voice. Have you forgotten that you work for me? Have you forgotten that the south side employs you? If we put you into office, we can surely take you out if you are not looking out for our best interests.
As a nurse and a patient, I can tell you that you are about to make a monumental mistake. This is the time to be innovative and farsighted. This is the time to be building a movement for national healthcare, using Kino as a springboard, so that should you be unfortunate, as I was, sometime in the future when you least expect it, you will be assured medical care as a right not a privilege. Health care should never be tied to employment. How ironic that those of us who can least afford it are expected to pay $1,500 for a MRI or $1,000 for a CT scan. If we can protect endangered species of plants and animals, why can’t we protect endangered humans, those living at the brink of hell, without adequate housing or medical care?
Our system in this city, and indeed this country, is inadequate. We do not provide for “the least of these.” It’s easy to overlook those forgotten ones until you become one. Disaster falls on us all.
Today you can be my hero. Please, keep Kino Hospital county, keep it full-service, and keep it union.
“Although the Supervisors went ahead and voted for privatization, AFSCME union members and community supporters won an eight-month moratorium on the change of the licensure from a general service hospital to a psychiatric hospital, the establishment of a community oversight committee which includes hospital employees and union representatives, and no loss of job or wage levels for Kino employees. “