Nursing homes, hospitals and home health care providers are losing Medicaid reimbursements, and public university hospitals that provide critical care and research are losing funding.
"I need your help. If we don't do something to change the course of politics in New York, it's our fault," Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Monticello, told more than 130 attendees at NYSUT's recent Health Care Professionals Forum. "It's vital. We must keep ourselves visible to the public. We really need to hear from you often."
Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, is leading the push to replace Medicare with a voucher program that would give seniors and disabled citizens a token amount of money to purchase health care privately. And there is movement to end funding under Title 10 for Planned Parenthood, which would severely impact access to primary health care for many low-income and often uninsured women.
Gunther urged workers to spread the message of these proposals "wherever you can" and voice concerns about these efforts to legislative representatives both in Albany and Washington, D.C.
"I have concerns about decreased health care among our neediest residents," said Gunther, who worked for years as a nurse.
Draconian cuts to health care and education are part of the current thrust to deal with the federal budget deficit, but such cuts cause most harm to low-income and middle class families, said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, who leads the union's health care and health and safety programs.
NYSUT, she said, continues to urge lawmakers to maintain the necessary health care programs New Yorkers rely on.
Gunther reminded her audience that workers, especially those in the public sector, have become a convenient target.
"The people who are quick to demonize union members for the state of the economy are the very same Wall Street fat cats and corporate tycoons whose irresponsibility and greed bought them a federal bailout, while the hardworking and ever-shrinking middle class holds their family finances together with duct tape and prayer — propped up by the hope that things will get better," she said to loud applause.
"Of course, union members haven't been the only targets. Anyone working in public education or health care is also under attack. And well — if you are a union member, teaching health care in a school — there's the trifecta!
"We have to stand as one, in solidarity — because what divides us is so much smaller than what unites us as one."
Gunther noted that NYSUT's advocacy and pressure on state legislators resulted in funding for SUNY and CUNY nursing programs as well as the Nursing Faculty Loan Forgiveness Incentive and the Senator Patricia McGee Nursing Faculty program through 2016.
Gunther supports the proposal to stop mandatory overtime for nurses in home care settings, the safe patient handling act, and the safe staffing for quality care act.
"At a time when people are tightening their belts, don't falter," said Anne Goldman, chair of NYSUT's Health Care Professionals Council and special nursing representative to the United Federation of Teachers. "All people deserve care. Your resounding voice will make it happen."
Caregivers need to come forward and let legislators know what is happening in schools, hospitals and homes. "We are the eyes, the ears, the first line of defense. We are the collective resounding voice for those in need," she said. "Through collaboration, we are heard."
"The national dialogue to demonize public workers cannot and should not be tolerated," NYSUT's Donahue said, urging workers to get out in streets, parks, and meeting rooms to protest losses.
Massive federal tax breaks to the wealthiest corporations are backed by New York's tax breaks, something the statewide union opposes, said Steve Allinger, NYSUT's director of legislation.
New York state has the worst income inequality in all 50 states, he said. "Don't let people tell you elections don't matter," he said. "They matter in life and death in the health field."