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Steven Kassel: Politicians need to take up health care

SCV Voices

Posted: April 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.

As registered nurses at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital prepared for an April 28 protest of hospital administration’s redesign of patient care into a “team nursing,” approach, Newhall Memorial administrators scrapped their plan and settled with the nurses.

This top-down/bottom-up process showed that the administration listened to the those who work close with and know best what is needed for its patients. I want to add some comments to help the reader look at the bigger historical and socio-economic issues that I believe, through what I have witnessed over the years, guide current administrative and business thinking that may have put employees and public at potential health risk.

The conservative Republican thinking that dominates bigger business here in Santa Clarita has a fundamental belief in “market forces,” or the ability of the market place to dictate policy.

In the case of health care, it is reflected in what kinds of moneys trickle down from administration to nurses, health plans to doctors and the very services considered reimbursable, and how all of that is delivered to the patient. 

The preference is markets over people, and as we know, in the era in which we live, the word “people” conjures up visions of socialism, communism and maybe even visceral fear reactions in the minds and bodies of conservatives. Likewise, the thoughts of top-down corporate policy and unrestrained, deregulated, overcontrol of health care services negating actual human need, draws fear response in liberals.

This is a nice setup for civil or class unrest, and even relevant to the Signal’s stories last week on local street beggers in need of medical services and fundraisers to help with basic medical needs, but we can save that discourse for another time.

The hospital has a very tight relationship with the SCV Chamber of Commerce. In fact, most chambers of commerce in the country have been anti-labor, anti-health-care reform and pro-trickle-up, top-down thinking, influencing politicians.

I had served on Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, Health Care Reform Task Force (put together by HMO-owner, and later Assemblyman, Keith Richman) during the years when Hillary Clinton was attempting to reform health care.

All the articles put forward from the industry represented in the task force for our group to read, and the final statement by the group, asked for reform in the direction of letting market economics dictate what happens in the health care arena. Seems kind of strange that the notion of “care” is negotiable that way.

A second mental health care reform task force was also formed by a few of us local psychotherapists, and the day after the election, when Newt Gingrich took control of the Congress, McKeon told us the health care reform was dead, and he continued on with Newt’s Contract With America.

As a member of a SCV Chamber of Commerce Health Care Committee in the early 1990s, I gave opinions on who should and who should not be speakers at an upcoming health care reform luncheon just prior to that election. The chamber wanted Congressman McKeon to be the keynote, and I objected because, in McKeon’s words, he was not interested in health care reform.

I also suggested having a speaker from the California Nurses Association come and talk about the two reform propositions on the ballot.

The bosses running the chamber returned their decisions the next week, saying McKeon would speak, and allowed for CNA speaker Jim Hifenhouse to also speak.

At the luncheon, I learned that the chamber had hired a top-gun anti-health-care-reform speaker from one of those election-made organizations called something like, “Citizens for ...”  who totally ripped the California Nurses Association representative, even saying that the CNA was a made-up socialist organization just for this election. Shame on the chamber. I resigned membership.

The local nurses planned protest was an important move not just to nurses, but to patients whose proper care was at risk. It is also very important to anyone with a job, as workers rights are so tied into family success and values. I commend the hospital administration for listening to the nurses; bottom-up.

I believe the system we are in, and even with the small changes that Congress and the health care industry agreed on last year, our American health care system is corrupt. (Google “The Settlement” and find out about the racketeering charges against the major insurance companies, or just look for the many fraud and price fixing cases that have been tried.)

Making health care decisions in this top-down system typically negates what nurses, doctors and therapists know best from their knowledge, education and intuition, as they serve the rules adopted by boards of directors.  

A single-payer health care system would cut through all these problems and deliver even-keeled medical and mental health, regardless of income, class or employment, cutting profits for executives and creating monies for the real stuff — treatment.

I would love to organize a group of locals who are interested in reform — maybe even plan a Mayor’s Single-Payer Breakfast.

In closing, I urge you to support the nurses now and in the future years to be appropriately staffed to better help their patients.

Each one of us may be a patient one day and should be assured that nurses have not traded empathy for stressful and confusing administrative-centered protocol, that they are healthy and focused properly on their patients.

Steven Kassel is a marriage and family therapist, is board-certified in biofeedback and neurofeedback and is a resident of Stevenson Ranch.


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