OAKLAND, California –Nearly 20,000 Kaiser Permanente nurses throughout Northern California took to the streets in protest on Tuesday and Wednesday, touting at least 30 agenda items, including calls for Ebola preparedness and complaints about staff cuts. Their goal: to bring hospital officials to the bargaining table under the umbrella of providing better patient care.
The National Nurses Association protests have been slammed by critics as politically-motivated attempts to exploit public concern over Ebola. Indeed, for the thousands of nurses that gathered in Oakland and elsewhere, the goal was not just to address inadequate training for Ebola, but also to draw attention to the fundamental, underlying concern: their own status and well-being within the Kaiser Permanente hospital model.
Breitbart News spoke with several attendees. One protesting nurse by the name of Beth said, “I really think [Kaiser Permanent is] trying to set the stage for doing takeaways [of employee benefits]. Health care is not suffering in this economy, and the last thing we should be doing is using our [nurses’] health care as a take away.” The nurses’ contracts had expired in August and are in the process of being renegotiated.
In the background popular songs aimed at female empowerment such as Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” were blaring as the crowds–approximately 85% of which were female–rallied in unison.
Chants of “When patients are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” and “Kaiser, Kaiser, you can’t hide. We can see your greedy side” rang throughout the air.
One nurse addressed the large crowd over a microphone saying she wants more of the millions of dollars in profits Kaiser has made during the recession to go towards ensuring better care for patients.
The strike reportedly cost Kaiser up to $20 million per day, according to local public radio affiliate KQED. The cost stems from over 2,800 temporary nurses and staff Kaiser has had to hire in addition to rescheduling procedures as a result.
Breitbart News asked a protesting nurse by the name of Chandra if this was also a fight for better pay and better care for nurses. She said “Actually, right now we do not have any financial proposals. So we cannot say that we are fighting for our salary. They have not given us the financial budget yet.”
A protesting nurse could be heard screaming “show me the money, Kaiser!” in the background.
Chandra then compared Ebola to a natural disaster. She said that while America is the “most powerful country in the world, it doesn’t cease to amaze me when Katrina happens, that how unprepared we were.” She said this is the exact same things that is happening in Kaiser with regard to Ebola preparedness. Kaiser hospitals “are not seeing what can happen,” told Breitbart News.
Another nurse by the name of Susan hailed Germany and Canada’s healthcare systems over America’s while alluding to what she referred to as the hospital’s “lack of foresight” with regard to both Ebola readiness and other potential health scares.
She added: “I agree with what he [filmmaker Michael Moore] says. And as a matter of fact, if you go to Cuba you have better healthcare there…than you have in the United States.”
She expressed her disdain with the Affordable Care Act, saying “it gave a license to insurance companies to reap profits at the hands of the tax payers.” She went on to suggest America implement a “single-payer system and get rid of the insurance companies. Even if that means breaking Kaiser [Permanente] down.”
The NNA calls this single-payer system “Medicare for all” and it mirrors the system currently being used in the ailing Veterans Association (VA).
Within the crowds, a veteran Vietnam War corpsman and registered nurse by the name of Lon was also present. Camera in hand, he told Breitbart News that he was in the process of creating a documentary film that goes through the history of the treatment of nurses in the medical system. The working title is “Why Nurses Strike.”
He said the introduction of machines into hospitals to replace human functions such as the caring touch of a nurse is going to usher in a new era referred to as “corporate medicine.” He insisted that while the best technology should be used, it should not be a replacement for nurses, but as an aid. “Machines can’t deliver the level of care that humans can.”
Lon said nurses need to have a more “elite function” in the hospitals. “Corporate healthcare is not what’s gonna heal people. It’s not what’s gonna heal this country. It’s not what’s gonna create love. It’s not gonna do it.”
America was deemed Ebola free this Tuesday with the release of a New York doctor who was declared cured of the often deadly hemorrhagic virus.