History of Nurses for Single Payer

Nurses for Single Payer, Part I

Nurses for Single Payer (NFSP) began five years ago, during the January 2011 statewide, all-day, Oregon Single Payer Conference, which was held in the First Unitarian Church of Portland, with approximately 500 attendees.

In many ways, NFSP grew out of the Portland Jobs with Justice (JWJ) Health Care Committee, where David Young, Dana Welty, and I had met, and where we had been working for single payer for several years. We felt that it was important to mobilize and publicize the voices of nurses in the fight for universal health care.  Three of us (David, Pamela Maciokas and myself) built the Big Nurse puppet, which greeted folks outside the Unitarian Church conference in 2011. Several of us from JWJ had helped organize the conference, and we called together a gathering of nurses over lunch, exchanged contact information, and decided to continue to meet. So began NFSP.  Dana Welty and I were among the initial organizers of the group. She’s a neo-natal RN at OHSU, and was very active in Jobs with Justice at that time, with the Health Care Committee, as well as representing the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) at JWJ.

We started an email list for NFSP, had numerous meetings in members” homes, and organized to support the lobby days and rallies in Salem for the single payer bill, beginning in 2011. We made NURSES FOR SINGLE PAYER buttons, and Kathy Birch got involved after she saw me wearing one. Kathy and Carole Most have been involved with NFSP for a number of years.
In March 2011, we rallied at the state capitol for the state single payer bill. Dana, clearly identifying herself as an RN, was one of the featured speakers. We carried signs identifying ourselves as nurses. NFSP continued to be active for several years, with house parties hosted by Kathy Birch and Todd Karakashian, and several activities at schools of nursing. Our goal was to educate and inform nurses about the single payer movement before HCAO’s newsletters and website largely supplanted that need. Nurses joined us, or our email list, by word of mouth. We have been a presence at every statewide rally and lobby day for single payer since 2011, and NFSP members, with Big Nurse and our banner, have participated in other public events in the Portland area, as well as tabling at nursing conferences.

NFSP was one of the earliest groups to formally endorse what was called AHCAO (the Act for Health Care for All Oregon–the 2011 single payer bill) introduced by then Representative Michael Dembrow. Subsequently, NFSP was one of the first organizational members of the newly created statewide organization, Health Care for All-Oregon (HCAO), in 2012. Our own RN David Young was very involved in the extensive planning to create the coalition we now know as HCAO, and to help write the original Oregon single payer bill. Dana was instrumental in ONA’s (Oregon Nurses’ Association) endorsement of the state single payer bill, and their initial membership in HCAO. Several nurses who were involved five years ago have continued to be active in the broader single payer movement, but not specifically with NFSP. Yuriko Lee is the leader of HCAO Washington County, and Maria Grumm is involved with the HCAO Faith Caucus.

For several years NFSP held meetings; then we held together through an email list where I would alert folks to events, activities, and articles to read. We briefly became part of the “health professionals caucus” of HCAO, and now with new blood from Chris Tanner, Nancy Sullivan, and Tom Sincic, we are morphing into a new, more focused, professional and powerful group!

–Betsy Zucker, NFSP, written for the HCAO Newsletter (January 2016)

Nurses for Single Payer – Part II

by Nancy Sullivan

In 2015, Chris Tanner retired and was looking for something to do. Dr. Tanner is Professor Emeritus at Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing where she served on faculty for nearly 35 years. At OHSU, she served as Director of Research Development and Utilization, Associate Dean for the Undergraduate Programs, and Interim Dean. She taught in the baccalaureate, masters and doctoral programs and was the recipient of many teaching awards. From 2001-2010, Dr. Tanner was one of the principal leads in the development of the Oregon Consortium for Nursing Education. In that role, she traveled to nursing schools around the state and worked with deans and faculty, getting to know them well. When Chris mentioned her interest in HCAO, I thought hard about a meaningful role for her, and I took her to coffee with Sam Metz. Sam proposed that Chris use her experience, skills, and contacts around Oregon to recruit nursing educators and leaders as advocates, engaging them with an educational presentation about universal, publicly funded health care.

It made sense on several fronts:

  • Nurses work with people who need health care; we hear our patients’ stories, and we “get it” about the devastating consequences of care being denied or curtailed because of access issues.
  • Nurses are valued and respected members of their communities – we consistently rank at the top of polls asking Americans which profession they trust the most.
  • Nurses live and work in every community in Oregon, and are involved and active in community concerns.

By 2015, Nurses for Single Payer had lost some of its energy, enthusiasm, and involvement – of course, Big Nurse was still showing up at rallies and events, and nurses were active in HCAO and in Jobs with Justice, but NFSP was floundering; it had been somewhat subsumed by the HCAO Healthcare Provider Caucus, and that group was also struggling. Carole Most, who was one of the early activists, proposed that we try to re-energize the nurses. About six of us, including longtime members Betsy Zucker, Kathy Birch, and David Young, got together at Chris’s house and listened to her proposal – we would reach out to nursing educators in the 14 nursing programs around the state – go to meet with them in person to outline our plan for Oregon nurses to become leaders in the campaign for universal health care. Through these nursing leaders, we would recruit nursing students, hospital and community nurses, nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives in communities all over Oregon!

Currently, NFSP has plans for presentations at three schools in the Portland area; we have engaged the Oregon Student Nurses Association and will be speaking and tabling at their annual meeting in February; we are developing a curriculum that we hope can be used for practicing nurses to get continuing education credits through the Oregon Nurses Association; and we are pursuing other opportunities to present at nursing schools around the state and at professional meetings sponsored by various nursing organizations. We have a website, a Power Point presentation about the rationale for single payer from a nurse’s point of view; NFSP buttons which we wear and distribute to other nurses. We meet on a regular basis to discuss potential initiatives and to develop those that we have started.

Last year in New York, the New York State Nursing Association (NYSNA) was instrumental in getting a single-payer bill passed in the New York State House of Delegates. On a national level, National Nurses United has endorsed Bernie Sanders for President because of his stand on single-payer health care and has made Medicare for All a principal part of their “Nurses Campaign to Heal America.” In Oregon, nurses believe that we have a key role in achieving universal, publicly funded health care and we are bringing our energy and enthusiasm to working toward that goal – everybody in, nobody out!
–Nancy Sullivan, NFSP, Portland Metro Council (January 2016)