nurse turnover, nursing home crisis, healthcare, certified nursing assistant

Healthcare Under Siege

Health Care

            Heerlen           When we think of healthcare protections in the United States compared to Europe, it seems like night and day in terms of coverage, and there’s a lot of truth in that common understanding.  Talking to a key leader and organizer of the Hospital Alliance (Ziekenhuisalliantie) that sprung up in Heerlen and surrounding communities, it’s not quite as simple as we might hope.  The privatization of national healthcare systems means that money still trumps community health too often.  In this case, the alliance rose to bring together area communities – and governments — to try to stop a plan that would close down the emergency room in Heerlen’s hospital.

No one in the community, city hall, or the region was confused.  If the plan proceeded to close the ER in 2030, there would be a cascade of cutbacks in area services.  The Parkstad region of the Netherlands is already underserved by healthcare facilities.  There is an average of 6.4 facilities within 20 kilometers in the Netherlands, but 0.4 in the region.  Closing the ER would mean a population of over 250,000 would face a 30-kilometer journey to the closest ER.  In traffic more than 30-minutes.  By public transportation over an hour-and-a-half, if you made it that far.

This closure is being driven by the private health insurers that under neoliberalism are managing the national healthcare systems in the country.  Weirdly, the insurer “buys” a certain number of procedures from the hospital, forcing limits on local care.  For example, if they buy 100 knee operations, you would have to wait or go elsewhere, if demands exceeded the number insured for your facility.  The campaign’s key target has been the insurer that handles the bulk of patients in the area hospital.  The alliance managed to join the community with mayors and councils from throughout the region.  Medical professionals have joined the cause increasingly as well.  A rally recently of 3000 people managed to win a concession from the insurers that they would review and restudy the situation with a report later this spring.  Organizers were hardly mollified since mayors and others were still cut out of the process, so they fear a whitewash may be in store.

Currently, healthcare takes up 14% of the national budget.  Costs are expected to double by 2060 so that they could exhaust 18% of GDP.  The alliance has been activated over this issue and sees keeping healthcare affordable increasingly as a central demand.  They want a meeting in coming weeks with the insurer’s CEO to hear their case and feel the rage and fear of the communities around the ER.  If not, they’ve reminded him that this is not a large country and have promised him buses to his headquarters and a rally there on the issue that will make national news.

This is a life-and-death issue for many, and the alliance and its supporters are pulling out the stops.