Focus on fundamental right to healthcare for all

October 1, 2007

Today's standard of care has morphed from comprehensive to catastrophic care. As the number of uninsured Americans has increased, so has the percentage of emergency room cases that aren't emergencies. As many as one-half of ER patients are there for routine treatment because they have nowhere else to go.

Today's standard of care has morphed from comprehensive to catastrophic care. As the number of uninsured Americans has increased, so has the percentage of emergency room cases that aren't emergencies. As many as one-half of ER patients are there for routine treatment because they have nowhere else to go.

Smaller staffs and increased care load are dramatically reducing the quality of care. The current system is said to force such caregivers to make decisions they should never have to make. As a result, more are leaving the profession. Only 55% of acute care nurses plan to stay in a hospital setting until they retire. By the year 2020, when baby boomers will be in greatest need of care, experts project that there will be a nationwide shortage of 400,000 nurses.

These providers are not just struggling to keep up with the care needs of others, they are also finding their own health benefits decreasing or disappearing. Too many are joining the ranks of the 45 million uninsured people in this country, 35 million of whom are working. Meanwhile, employers face the choice of making painful cuts in benefits or absorbing enormous new costs.

From institutional providers to frontline caregivers to employers to uninsured and underinsured patients, no one in the health care community is benefiting from the status quo.

As a result, the Service Employees International Union addressing leaders in business, government, and the institutional provider setting, and recently launched SEIU Healthcare/. The latter's 1 million members are working to unite healthcare workers, raise standards, and transform the U.S. healthcare system into one that puts patients and quality care first, provides affordable care to all, and ensures quality long-term care for the aging population.

By adopting industrywide standards for best practices and emphasizing preventive care, we can improve consistency of quality care while reducing costs and infection risk or complication from lengthy hospital stays. By improving working conditions and training for frontline care providers, and by giving providers the freedom to form a union to advocate for themselves and patients, hospitals can reduce turnover and burnout – and save millions of dollars. By increasing availability of home- and community-based care for patients with chronic illness or disabilities, we'll save billions and vastly improve quality of life for patients and their families.

It's time to improve the quality of patient care, strengthen hospitals' competitive performance, and ensure the fundamental right to healthcare for all.

Mary Kay Henry serves as an Executive Vice President of the Service Employees International Union, the nation's largest health care union, where she has been an organizer and leader for over 25 years.