Chris Hedges: Nurses Fight Godzilla

The front line against corporate tyranny is not the ballot box. It is in the desperate struggle by the overworked and underpaid to prevent corporate behemoths from turning everyone into gig workers without health and retirement benefits, job security, sustainable incomes or equitable working conditions. Nurses, battered by the almost inhuman demands put on them during the pandemic, have been especially hard hit. Almost one-third of New Jersey’s nurses have left the profession in the last three years.

The health-care system has raised the costs for patients and shrunk the accessibility of medical care. In 1975 the U.S. had about 1.5 million hospital beds and a population of about 216 million people. Now, with a population of over 330 million people, the country has around 925,000 beds. Fifty-six percent of Americans have medical debt and 23 percent owe $10,000 or more, according to a study by Affordable Health Insurance. The study found emergency room visits contributed to medical debt for 44 percent of Americans. Some 330,000 Americans died during the pandemic because they could not afford to go to a doctor on time.

The seizure of the healthcare system by ever larger conglomerates and private-equity firms has created a crisis in the health-care system. Nursing shortages, Becker’s ASC Review reports, have contributed to one of every four unexpected hospital deaths or injuries caused by errors. A 2021 study, Becker’s ASC Review says, “showed that each additional sepsis patient per nurse was associated with 19 percent higher odds of in-hospital mortality.”

Meanwhile, the heads of these corporations are making obscene salaries. In 2022, the former CEO of Barnabas, Barry Ostrowsky, was paid more than $16 million. In 2020, the CEOs of 178 major healthcare companies collectively made $3.2 billion in total compensation, an increase of 31 percent from 2019, all in the midst of the pandemic.

“We have to educate ourselves and others. Health is fundamental. There is no incremental way that we can do this. We cannot work within the for-profit system to fix this problem. We have to nationalize our healthcare system. This means getting the profit out completely. Unfortunately, in the bills that are in Congress right now, they don’t take that step. They continue to allow the for-profits to operate within the system, but they’re parasites. They’re always going to take as much as they can. Every dollar they take means a dollar less for somebody getting the care that they need.”