CANTON, Mass. — After reviewing health care cuts announced by Governor Mitt Romney this week, the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), the state’s largest health care association representing the state’s registered nurses, calls the cuts shortsighted, misguided and devastating to children, seniors and other vulnerable populations. Not only are these cuts harmful in their impact on the citizens of the Commonwealth, they are economically wasteful, ultimately resulting in patients receiving more costly care in already overcrowded emergency rooms. While the Governor has called for an equal sharing of the burden of cuts to the budget, his approach to the health care sector shows a lack of understanding of the unequal burden borne by health care and human service providers for many years.
"The Governor has just broken his promise to not cut core services," said Julie Pinkham, MNA Executive Directors. "Health care is not only a core service, it is a safety net, a matter of life and death for vulnerable children, senior citizens, mentally ill and mentally retarded citizens. The government has taken an axe to those programs focusing on prevention of illness and basic care to these populations, which will only result in these people suffering more serious complications requiring more costly care."
Among his cuts is the elimination of significant funding for the state’s highly successful Enhanced School Health program that funds school nurses and school nurses in cities and towns with children lacking access to adequate health care. Today, school nurses across the state are receiving layoff notices; and school based clinics, in many communities the only source of health care for children, are threatened by these cuts.
In Newton, three public health nurses have been laid off today as a result of these cuts in a system where nurses were already overburdened and over extended. In Framingham, which has a large immigrant population, there are many students who would not get to school if it was not for the presence of a school nurse. According to Marcia Buckminster, the director Framingham’s school health program, that city’s hospital is a for-profit which only offers emergency services to the uninsured. They do not have a community based clinic in town and many of their pediatricians will not see uninsured children. The Children’s Medical Security Plan has a long waiting list and MassHealth is also being cut. The school nurses initiated a nurse managed health center in a school in the part of town that has the neediest population. Absenteeism has dropped and children are able to be treated on site by the nurse practitioner. They were about to open the same model at the high school before the devastating news of the cuts came.
"School health programs prevent illness, they keep kids in school, and help keep some children out of more expensive special needs programs. They are the state’s best investment of our health care dollars, but this is where the Governor chooses to cut first," Pinkham said.
The Governor is also slashing budgets in the Departments of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, programs that have already undergone years of cuts and where patients and clients are suffering from a chronic lack of appropriate care.
"Our mental health system has been in shambles for years. We have mentally ill patients roaming the streets or being boarded for days in hospital emergency rooms because we lack beds and staff to care for them. We have severely dangerous patients being housed with geriatric and pediatric patients in hospitals for lack of proper resources to care for them. We have nurses being physically beaten and assaulted on a regular basis because of a lack security and resources to take care of violent patients. The system is in crisis, yet this Governor wants to gut these programs more. It shows a lack of understanding for the needs of the mentally ill in this state," Pinkham said.
The Governor, who pledged to protect the 50,000 seniors who were to lose access to MassHealth, is planning to make more cuts in the Medicaid program, and to increase drug costs for seniors at a time when seniors are having to choose between paying for food or their prescription drugs.
The Governor is cutting some of the states most successful and nationally recognized public health programs to prevent AIDs, Hepatitis C, to stop smoking, reduce teen pregnancy and screen for and provide early detection for a number of types of cancer. "As nurses, we know the value of prevention and the positive impact it has on people, and on preventing more expensive health care treatments," said Pinkham.
The MNA believes the time for budget cutting is over and the time for revenue generation has arrived. "The health care safety net is not only frayed, it is in tatters, and there is no room for further assaults on our health care system. As nurses, we have seen the human toll our lack of investment in health care has taken. It’s time to invest in the well being of our citizens, not to support draconian policies that will harm them," said Pinkham.