Saturday, October 25, 2014

Editorial: Public Needs Facts, Nurses Need Union

Republicans and corporate media have sown fear with rampant misinformation on the Ebola threat. They blame federal authorities for failing to prepare local hospitals to deal with potential victims, but the debacle at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas points out the need for more oversight of healthcare providers as well as unions to protect doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers from administrators who are more concerned with bottom lines than quality control for patients and workers.

The biggest mistake the officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made in late September was in trusting Texas health authorities to deal with the Ebola victim, but Gov. Rick Perry has largely escaped criticism for the state’s failure of oversight.

Thomas Eric Duncan, who showed up at the Dallas emergency room on Sept. 25 with a fever, stomach pains and a piercing headache, reportedly told an ER worker that he had recently arrived from Africa and didn’t have insurance. He was sent home with antibiotics. When he returned three days later in an ambulance, he was left waiting with other patients for hours before he was admitted to the hospital’s isolation unit, nurses say.

“No one knew what the protocols were or were able to verify what kind of personal protective equipment should be worn and there was no training,” a nurse told National Nurses United, which has been warning for months that poor training and oversight is putting US healthcare workers at risk of contracting the virus. A nursing supervisor who demanded that Duncan be moved to an isolation unit faced resistance from other hospital authorities, the nurses said.

Luckily, none of the hospital’s patients or Duncan’s friends and family came down with Ebola as the 21-day incubation period expired on Oct. 20. But two nurses who treated Duncan were infected with the deadly virus, possibly because they were not trained in use of the limited protective gear they had, and more than 200 others with proximity to the stricken nurses were still being monitored.

As the hospital sought to defuse the criticism of its treatment of Duncan, it hired the global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller and started a more assertive defense, with employee pep rallies and complaints that the CDC didn’t help the hospital adequately prepare for an Ebola outbreak.

But some of the nurses at Presbyterian, who are not represented by a union, contacted the nurses union out of frustration with the lack of training and preparation. They spoke anonymously because they were warned not to speak to reporters and they fear retaliation from the hospital, NNU officials said.

Before Duncan showed up there was one optional lecture/seminar on Ebola and a link to the CDC website, but no mandate for nurses to attend the training sessions or protocols on what nurses had to do in the event of arrival of an Ebola patient.

“This is a very large hospital. To be effective, any classes would have to offered repeatedly, covering all times when nurses work; instead this was treated like the hundreds of other seminars that are routinely offered to staff,” the nurses said.

There was no advance hands-on training on the use of personal protective equipment for Ebola. No training on what symptoms to look for. No training on what questions to ask.

The problem is nationwide. NNU conducted a survey of 700 RNs at over 250 hospitals in 31 states and found that 80% said their hospital had not yet communicated any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected with Ebola; 87% said their hospital had not provided education on Ebola where nurses could interact and ask questions; and one-third said their hospital had insufficient supplies of eye protection and fluid-resistant gowns.

Also, while Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital operates as a non-profit organization, it booked an operating profit of $89 million for a 14.5% profit margin in 2012 and the Dallas Morning News reported Oct. 18 that Presbyterian’s ER actually is run by an independent contractor, Emergency Medicine Consultants Ltd., operating as Texas Medicine Resources L.L.P.

In such arrangements, which are common nationwide, companies typically assume many duties for the hospital, the News noted. So it is possible that the night the ER sent Duncan home with a wrong diagnosis of sinusitis, no Presbyterian employee was involved.

We agree with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who called on President Obama to use his executive authority to put in place mandatory protections and other workplace standards for hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

“Existing protocols, standards and guidelines, and adherence to them, are deficient,” Trumka said. “The failures in the response have put dozens of additional health care workers at risk, and potentially exposed many other workers and members of the public. ... Immediate action is needed.”

The standards should include the “highest level of protective equipment,” including use of air purifying respirators and full body suits with hands-on training on the proper way to put on and take off the protective gear. Trumka also called for protection from retaliation against workers who report health and safety issues or who contract the Ebola virus or are restricted or placed under quarantine.

Congress also must stop partisan posturing and work with the administration to provide support that is needed to stop the threat here and the bigger threat in West Africa, restoring the budget cuts that House Republicans have demanded since 2011 and adopting legislation to see that these protections are put in place without delay.

Supreme Court OKs Voter Suppression

A federal judge in Texas ruled Oct. 9 that a Voter ID bill unconstitutionally imposes a tax on the right to vote but the Supreme Court Oct. 18 decided to let Texas go ahead with suppressing hundreds of thousands of Texas voters in this year’s general election while the appeal works its way through the courts.

The order was unsigned, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a six-page dissent joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote.

Republicans claim to be confident that they can keep control of Texas, but they don’t want to leave anything to chance, so they railroaded the voter ID bill through the Legislature in 2011. US District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos of Corpus Christi ruled the bill was passed with a “discriminatory purpose” and could disenfranchise more than 600,000 citizens, disproportionately black and Hispanic, including students and seniors who don’t have cars so they don’t have drivers’ licenses, a military ID, a passport or a concealed weapons permit. Republicans claimed the law was needed to prevent voter fraud, but only two people were found to have impersonated others at Texas polls during a recent 10-year period.

The Supreme Court also upheld new restrictions on voting in North Carolina and Ohio that cut back early voting, but the high court stopped Wisconsin from implementing a voter ID bill for this election. At least 16 Republican-dominated states have acted to restrict voting in this election — and the suppression works. The US Government Accountability Office reported that strict photo ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee lowered voter participation in the 2012 elections by roughly 2 to 3 percentage points from 2008.

If Republicans were acting in good faith to prevent voter fraud, they would make state IDs easier to obtain for the roughly 10% of people who lack them. Many of those unlicensed don’t have the time or money to get the required documents, take a day off and find transportation to a license bureau, which are often in the suburbs, to get a state-approved voter ID. The GOP is unmoved.

Some day Republicans will be embarrassed by their role in suppressing the vote. But not this year. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2014
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Selections from the November 15, 2014 issue

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pennsylvania legislature & Governor join forces with NRA to put more guns in hands of criminals

By Marc Jampole

On election day the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will most certainly sweep out of office Tom Corbett, their ultra-rightwing Republic Governor who drastically cut aid to public education, impeded implementation of the Affordable Care Act, kept taxes and regulations low on shale gas drillers, and tried to restrict voting rights.  But before they “throw ‘de bum out,” he intends to inflict even more damage on his constituents.

Corbett is expected to sign a new law that would allow the National Rifle Association (NRA) to sue local municipalities in Pennsylvania that enact guns laws stricter than the state’s. Once Corbett signs this odious sop to the gun lobby, the NRA is going to sue the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia over laws on their books that require gun owners to report when a firearm is lost or stolen.  

One study counts 230,000 guns stolen in the United States every year in burglaries and property crimes. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia surely account for a share of those thefts. By definition, all 230,000 of those guns end up in the hands of criminals. I haven’t seen any studies, but I think it’s safe to assume that a significant number of lost guns also end up in the hands of the bad guys. 

Police can’t go after stolen and lost guns unless the owners report the losses. Not having the report on file slows down the process of gathering evidence when they succeed in encountering or arresting a criminal. And let’s not forget that sometimes people who don’t report a “lost” or “stolen” firearm have in fact sold the weapon, possibly to a criminal.

It’s mind-boggling that in many places in this supposedly civilized country people don’t have to tell the police when a gun goes missing.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on this truly outrageous and dangerous legislation focuses most of its attention on the great drain on city treasuries that defending the lawsuits will make. And it’s not just the big cities. Thirty other municipalities across the Keystone State have similar laws that the NRA could challenge or topple once Corbett signs the law.

What a win-win-win this law will therefore be to the broad spectrum of the right.

Taking city funds from fixing roads, clearing snow, educating the young, feeding the poor and ensuring public health and safety and giving it to attorneys certainly helps to give the rich a larger share of the income and wealth pies.

It must help gun manufacturers sell more guns, but I’m not sure I see how, unless they think they will benefit from an increase in crime rates, which may make more people buy guns for protection.

Finally, because of the widespread myth that most urban dwellers and recipients of government aid are minorities, the racists will be delighted to see city funds diverted from helping those whom they consider undeserving.

When Harry Golden wrote and Jay and the Americans sang, “Only in America,” I don’t this is what they meant!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Scenes from the class warfare the rich are waging against everyone else

By Marc Jampole 

For days, images of the Philadelphia public school system have haunted me. More than 30 children in one class share 11 math books. Bathrooms locked because there aren’t enough hall monitors. What’s most heartbreaking is to know that just a few miles away other school students attend some of the highest rated public and private schools in the nation, where they are lavished with cutting edge technology and enrichment opportunities. 

Then there are the images of elected officials turning a deaf ear to the protests of the students, teachers and parents angered at the extreme cuts. And the image of the Philadelphia Board of Education voting to cancel the contract with the teachers’ union. Shame on the board and shame on everyone else who blames Pennsylvania’s and American’s crisis in public education on teachers or believe the solutions to the problem all involve taking money out of the pockets of these highly skilled professionals.

Most people agree that the immediate cause of the public school crisis in Philadelphia is the extreme cuts—50%!!—to public education enacted by Pennsylvania under right-wing Republic Governor Tom Corbett. These cuts have led to resource shortages, less enrichment and larger classes throughout Pennsylvania.  According to polls, Corbett is going to pay at the polls for these Draconian cuts, his attempts to limit the voting franchise and his opposition to implementing the Affordable Care Act.

But all that means is Corbett will go back to some cushy job at a major law or lobbying firm. What about the tens of thousands of children who will receive inferior education because of his cuts?

The other thought that haunts my mind lately is a claim that I am unable to substantiate that a major nonprofit health institution in the western part of Pennsylvania makes job applicants pay the cost for background checks that are part of the hiring process. The checks cost $57.50 for a job paying $11.51 an hour, barely more than the purchasing power of the minimum wage in the 1960’s. I heard from several people I know that it is standard for some nonprofits to ask job applicants to pay for these security clearances.

I connect the charging of job applicants to the gutting of state support of public education. Both are little pieces of the wealth-and-income pie taken in the 35-year program to give a larger share to the rich folk and less to the poor and middle class.

The logic of cutting aid to public school makes perfect sense if you want to transfer wealth up the economic ladder. The cuts by definition will negatively affect teacher compensation, if for no other reason than it will increase the pool of teachers looking for jobs. The cuts will also make poor folk less able to climb the economic ladder because they will receive inferior education. Finally, it drives the middle class into private schools, translates into support of the education of the rich, who have always taken the private route.  That’s maiming three birds with one stone, the glorious topper to which is that the money saved from harming public education goes directly to the wealthy without passing Go. Brilliant strategy!

Cutting public education may be brilliant class war strategy, but making people pay to apply for low-paying jobs is merely sadistic. The message is, “we have the job and we can do anything we want.” It equates to Lebron James spiking the ball in the face of a fifth-grader.  Of course, anything to save a buck. That’s the excuse that gives for not paying its employees for the half hour it takes for each to go through the security screening process before and after work.

You would think that the extremity with which corporations and right-wing state governments are going would sicken the electorate. After all, 99% of us are not gaining from the continual grabbing by the wealthy of our government benefits and income. Now I know some vote with the right wing because of its 19th century views on women, gays and race. But all surveys suggest that number is decreasing rapidly in all parts of the country.

What I think drives the 99% away from the Democrats is that they aren’t much better than the Republicans. Massive contributions from billionaires and multinational corporations have colored the views of most Democrats on public education, tax policy and unionism. For six years now, President Obama has started negotiations on economic, taxation and budgetary matters by giving away the store, so eager has he been to make a deal—any kind of deal—with the factotums of the 1%.

It doesn’t help people trying to distinguish between Democrat and Republican that the Obama Administration continues to build on the Bush II security state and still uses bombing and troops as the primary tools of foreign policy—save the ending of the Bush II torture gulag.

Note how popular are the candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bill De Blasio who have articulated a progressive vision. But instead of following their lead, the Democratic Party in general is consolidating into a centrist position that resembles 1950’s Republicanism without the racism and sexism: in other words, more progress on social issues than economic ones.