News & Events

Nurses Blast ‘Final’ Debt Panel Report

For Immediate Release
December 1, 2010

Contact: Joe Jurczak, 202-974-8307, Michelle Evermore, 202-288-8561, or Charles Idelson, 415-559-8991

Nurses Blast ‘Final’ Debt Panel Report, Call on Congress, White House to Stand Up and Protect Retirement Security

The revised, final report by the president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility is an “unwarranted, outrageous attack on the health, safety, and retirement security of millions of nurses and tens of millions of other working people and should be immediately rejected by the Obama administration and Congress,” said the nation’s largest union and professional association of registered nurses today.

“It is time for the White House and Congress to stand up and send a clear message to the American people that they will not agree to further erode our retirement security and standard of living while continuing to promote further tax breaks and concessions to Wall Street and the most wealthy among us,” said Karen Higgins, RN, co-president of the-160,000-member National Nurses United.

Among its most egregious proposals, the report calls for raising the retirement age to 69 and the age for early retirement to 64, which especially targets workers with the most physically demanding jobs, including nurses who suffer more back injuries, for example, than any other employment group. NNU also opposes the proposal to cut benefits of up to 36 percent of younger workers, reducing the annual cost-of-living adjustment, and the decision to put far more of the burden of deficit reduction on working people than those on the top.

“Most long-term RNs worked for years with substandard pensions, and many now face new demands by employers to sharply erode their retirement plans. Therefore, cuts in Social Security would hit nurses especially hard. Raising the retirement age to 69 would force nurses, like other working people with physically demanding, stressful employment to delay retirement, at risk to themselves and their patients,” Higgins said.

Cook County RN Dorothy Ahmad, a Chicago resident, criticized Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a commission member, who said that raising the retirement age to 69 would be "acceptable to me."

“How would he like his nurse to be 69, rolling into his hospital room in a wheelchair or scooter with his medication, trying to take care of him? At 69 years old, a nurse should be able to retire in dignity with security for herself and her family, not be forced to still be working at risk to her patients and herself. Chicago nurses are disappointed with Sen. Durbin’s response,” Ahmad said.

Higgins, who works in critical care, said she “cannot even fathom nurses at 69 still being required to work. You need to have the highest mental and physical alertness to be able to provide safe care. The idea that nurses would be able to do that at 69 is dangerous to patients, but forcing us to be in a position that we would have to is disgraceful.”

Retired California RN Elizabeth Pataki of Sacramento said protecting Social Security is vital for the many RNs who have been forced to “retire early with back injuries and a long work history that involved great stresses on their backs and joints. Most nurses cannot work to the usual age of retirement.”

Too many RNs, said Pataki, “have seen their pensions lessened and their savings lessened, and don’t have a comfortable margin to retire on. So Social Security is critical. To require them to work longer is unacceptable and will further handicap a nurse for the rest of her life.”

Women are also particularly threatened by the proposal, said Higgins. “More women are living below the poverty level and must depend on Social Security. They are frequently paid less than men and are also likely to move in and out of the workforce as they raise families and therefore the benefits they receive are less.”

“We see elderly people coming in who are just trying desperately to hold on, to provide for themselves and sometimes others. They are trying to pay their rent, put food on the table, and pay for their medications. It is often the medications that they give up, running the risk of being declared ‘noncompliant.’ Many are helpless, having nowhere to turn.”

“I think it is disgusting that we should even consider cutting back on Social Security benefits or reducing Medicare provision.”