News & Events

Nurses, seniors lobby lawmakers

Saturday, February 9, 2002

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — It seems like the perfect marriage: nurses working side-by-side with seniors to get health care legislation passed. Representatives from the Massachusetts Senior Action Council and the Massachusetts Nurses Association held a hearing with state lawmakers yesterday morning at the Independence House residence. Their hope was to garner support for the so-called "Safe Staffing Bill" that would set minimum staffing levels for units and services at hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions.

State Sen. Linda J. Melconian, D-Springfield, said the patient and provider groups would need to be especially active to get safe staffing regulations on the books.

"This has to be on the radar screen for anything to happen," she said. "The only way to do that is to build an effective group."

"There are so many competing interests for the Legislature’s attention right now, and they have to make it one of the top priorities."

Older people and nurses have taken the message to heart. They have already begun planning a joint lobbying session for March 12 when they will descend on Beacon Hill to take their message directly to lawmakers.

Kate A. Anderson, associate director of legislation and government affairs of the nurses’ association, noted that seniors have had great success getting prescription drug legislation passed and funded by putting their members in Beacon Hill offices to talk to their representatives. "We look at them as a model," Anderson said. "They have a powerful voice in the state and they vote. They have a lot to teach us."

Isaac BenEzra of Amherst, membership coordinator for Senior Action Council, said his organization has taken on passage of safe staffing as one of its primary goals. "This is a bread and butter issue for seniors," he said. "It’s the direct care from nurses that affects our lives, and I’m delighted to have the nurses pushing on our side."

Area legislators turned out in force for the event. Along with Melconian were state Reps. Mary S. Rogeness, R-Longmeadow; Paul E. Caron, D-Springfield; Benjamin Swan, D-Springfield; and Cheryl A. Rivera, D-Springfield. Also present were aides to state Reps. Thomas M. Petrolati, D-Ludlow; Joseph F. Wagner, D-Chicopee; and Daniel F. Keenan, D-Agawam.

Several pointed out that the state’s tight finances would send their battle for better staffing uphill. Hospitals already struggle to make ends meet and have asked for increased state reimbursements to help them staff floors and units. Swan suggested that the state needs to take a harder look at casino gambling as a source of revenue.

"A lot of money is going from Massachusetts to Connecticut and Rhode Island for gambling," said Swan, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee that coordinates state funding.

"We already have gambling in bingo and the lottery, so I’m not sure we need to be concerned with the moralistic

© 2002 UNION-NEWS. Used with permission.