Convention Center, Albany, NY
Monday, March 8, 2004 [12:20 pm]
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Adresses NYS Nurses
"Talk about making a person feel better, thank you Madam President, for those warm and generous words.
If, as Mark Twain once noted, a person can live a month on a single compliment, then I think you've just assured me a very long and happy life.
Margaret Leonard. Lola Fehr. Tina Gerardi. Gail Myers. Members of the New York State Nurses Association, before I begin my formal remarks, allow me to offer special greetings to a few of your members who are present here today.
First, I bring the greetings of the Assembly Majority, to your new Executive Director, Lola Fehr. Lola, I understand that you come to us from Colorado. Welcome to the big leagues. I hope you find fulfillment and success leading this team.
Let me also take a moment to recognize Josephine Bolus, RN. Hopefully, Josephine will soon be appointed to the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation Board by Mayor Bloomberg.
One would think that after retiring from Kings County Hospital, Josephine would have had her fill of public service. Thankfully, she has not. If the Mayor does the right thing, you will be on the HHC board ensuring that the patients always come first. Good luck, Josephine.
In settings such as this, some politicians stand here and tell you that they appreciate the challenge you are facing, and then they return to their offices and forget all about you. I am telling you with the utmost sincerity, that I, in fact, know your pain. I know what causes the tightness in your necks, the headaches, the lower back pain, the clenched teeth.
You see, not only is there a professional nurse in the Assembly Majority now, my good friend Assembly Member Aileen Gunther, I also have a brother who is a doctor.
All kidding aside, if I've learned anything over the years, it is this: nursing is among the most difficult professions in the world today.
Even with all of the studying and all of the hands-on training, if the spirit of public service is not within you, if you lack the depth of compassion it takes to comfort and heal while enduring the mental, emotional and physical fatigue of patient care, you don't belong in nursing.
I would go so far as to say that the quality of health care in this State would plummet were it not for your professionalism and your humanity.
Just when I think I've found the words to express our appreciation for all that you do, I come across the story of Army Lieutenant Colonel Frances Liberty, who was laid to rest three days ago. In three different wars, she risked her life crossing battlefield after battlefield to save the lives of wounded soldiers. It really made the point for me that it takes something special to be a nurse, something heroic, something that Frances Liberty carried in her heart, something special that is inside each and every one of you.
It is sad that it would take a nursing shortage to get people to realize how special you really are.
Let me say on behalf of a State that is sometimes under appreciative - thank you for sharing your special gifts with us when we are most in need.
If anything, government should be making our health care system better; making your jobs a little less overwhelming. Yet year after year, the Governor cuts funding to vital health services and further damages our already frail health-care system, making it harder for New York's most vulnerable citizens to afford the care they need.
For the 2004-2005 fiscal year, the Governor proposes among other things, $1.5 billion in "sick taxes" and cuts - including cuts in public health funding - that will cripple our health care system. It's easy to say, "Cut health care." What the Governor chooses to ignore is that "health care" is "people." When you're talking about people, the question becomes, what do you cut? Early intervention for disabled children? Home health care services for the elderly? Programs for people with AIDS?
Should we drive away health care workers? Go with unsafe staffing ratios? Shut down clinics and hospitals?
Who gets care and who doesn't, is that a choice government should be making?
Like our nurses and all health professionals, this government must ensure that every citizen who needs it, has access to the quality health care they deserve. That is what public service is really all about, and that is why the Members of the Assembly Majority - with the leadership of our Health Committee Chair, Assembly Member Dick Gottfried - are the champions of safe staffing ratios in all of our health-care facilities.
In fact, later this afternoon, on the floor of the Assembly, we will likely take up and pass The Nursing Care Quality Protection Act. We will urge our colleagues in the Senate to pass it, and we will push for its enactment. When it becomes law, only people legally authorized to practice nursing will be allowed to use the title of "Nurse."
In addition, this measure requires hospitals to disclose:
* The number of RNs and LPNs providing direct care, as well as the ratio of patients to RNs;
* The number of unlicensed personnel used to provide direct care;
* Patient injuries and medication errors caused by adverse patient care;
* The methods used by hospitals to determine staffing levels;
* And the complaints filed with the State, or with federal regulatory agencies.
When it comes to health care, my issue with the Governor is not simply a matter of what he's done, it's a matter of what he's not doing. Our Governor flies all around the country raising money for the President and for the Republicans in the Senate and the House. I can appreciate the politics of it, but one would think that, as a State, we could take advantage of that.
We were the target of a terrorism attack in back in 1993. We were clearly the biggest target and the biggest victim of the attacks on September 11th , 2001. We continue to be mentioned in every report as having to be at the highest level of alert because we remain a potential target for terrorist attack. Yet, per capita, the State of Wyoming will receive more than five times the amount of "first responder grants" than New York State will, through the Department of Homeland Security's federal reimbursement plan.
That's quite a tribute to the first responders who gave their lives on September Eleventh.
Let's consider Medicaid.
Among the states, we receive the lowest share of Medicaid from the national government. Fifty-percent reimbursement, that's what we get.
If we got five percent more from the federal government - and there are states getting seventy-five and eighty percent
of their Medicaid costs reimbursed - this State would pick up an additional three billion dollars.
Five percent - not a big number - but it equals three billion dollars.
Can you imagine what three billion dollars more a year would do for our ailing health care system?
Yet, somehow, the Governor can't or won't make the effort with those same people to fight for the federal dollars that this State deserves and this State needs.
I urge you, my Assembly Majority colleagues who are present here (Assembly Members Jonathan Bing, Sandra Galef, Barry Grodenchik, Alexander Gromack, Ivan Lafayette, Philip Ramos, David Sidikman, Harvey Wiesenberg, Barbara Lifton and Diane Gordon) urge you, to join us in prodding the Governor to get this State the federal funds our health-care system so desperately needs.
New York State deserves better.
I know that we are dealing with other issues on your agenda, but I've gone a little too long in my remarks.
As Gail Myers, your Senior Associate Director for Governmental and Political Relations can tell you, my door, Assemblyman Dick Gottfried's door, and the doors of our Assembly Majority colleagues are always open to this Association.
Be assured, that we are fighting to make New York State's health care system the best it can be for our patients and for our health-care workers.
We have won important victories in the past.
Working together with you, we will continue to win the necessary victories in the future.
I appreciate you inviting us here.
We hope to continue our partnership which has been so successful in the past, as we tackle the challenges of today and of the future.
Enjoy the rest of your day here in Albany."
(Remarks by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to RNs at the NYS Nurses Association State Capitol RN Legislative luncheon)