GCC nursing students talk single-payer health care, workplace safety concerns with legislators

Greenfield Community College President Michelle Schutt introduces the legislative panel during a nursing class at the college on Monday.

Greenfield Community College President Michelle Schutt introduces the legislative panel during a nursing class at the college on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa speaks to nursing students at a legislative panel on health care at Greenfield Community College on Monday.

Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa speaks to nursing students at a legislative panel on health care at Greenfield Community College on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa speaks to nursing students at a legislative panel on health care at Greenfield Community College on Monday.

Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa speaks to nursing students at a legislative panel on health care at Greenfield Community College on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

From left, Rep. Susannah Whipps, Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Natalie Blais participate in a legislative panel on health care at a nursing class at Greenfield Community College on Monday.

From left, Rep. Susannah Whipps, Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Natalie Blais participate in a legislative panel on health care at a nursing class at Greenfield Community College on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 02-12-2024 6:36 PM

GREENFIELD — Four women representing western Massachusetts in the state Legislature visited Greenfield Community College on Monday for a panel discussion about health care with second-year nursing students.

State Sen. Jo Comerford was joined by state Reps. Susannah Whipps, Natalie Blais and Lindsay Sabadosa in the school’s East Building to field questions from those set to graduate and enter the workforce in May. Topics ranged from single-payer health care to gender-affirming care to better protecting medical staff from violence.

“We are all consumers of the health care system,” said Comerford, a Democrat from Northampton.

The audience consisted of about 25 students who are part of a nursing Capstone class. Their objectives are to analyze current health care issues and policies to develop methods that influence change.

Stacey Mimnaugh, of Shutesbury, asked the legislators what she and her fellow aspiring nurses can do to drum up support for single-payer health care or “Medicare-for-all,” which covers everyone without exception. She was told this type of massive health care reform is championed by a dedicated but small group, and public opinion might best be swayed by more people lending their time and effort to campaign for it.

Whipps, an Independent from Athol, encouraged the nursing students not to “preach to the choir.” Instead of advocating to elected officials they agree with, she said, they should try to persuade fellow citizens who are undecided or opposed to the idea. The local legislators said this can be done by volunteering with organizations or politicians already in the fight.

Emma Graham, who lives in Berkshire County, asked for the legislators’ thoughts on the overcrowding of emergency rooms due to overstays by patients dealing with mental health issues. She said hospitals are typically not the ideal setting for these patients. Whipps agreed and said a reported shortage of “beds” is often actually a shortage of nurses to treat patients in those beds. More nurses in the workforce, she said, will help alleviate this situation.

Graham was one of a few students to say she had been assaulted by patients or patients’ family members while working or training in hospitals. Students said they are excited to enter the nursing field but apprehensive about the lack of protections in place for them. Whipps, whose district includes multiple hospitals, said the police chiefs in Gardner and Athol are aware of this problem and take it very seriously.

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Blais, D-Deerfield, mentioned the health care sector encompasses many life aspects, such as nutrition, housing and transportation.

“There are so many pieces of it. And that, I think, is really exciting. It’s an exciting piece of what you’re going to be doing and what you’re addressing every day as you’re working with patients,” she said.

Blais explained she has filed a bill pertaining to regional transit authorities, “because many of our constituents may not have access to cars.” Lack of transportation, she said, hinders access to health care.

“So we want to make sure that we’re providing a base for funding,” she said. “We’re asking that regional transit authorities, like the FRTA and the PVTA, get the same dedicated funding stream that the MBTA does, because right now we don’t and every year we have to fight to fund these really necessary services for our constituents.”

Comerford said one of the bills she has filed is centered around lowering the threshold for gender-affirming care in the state. She said state law currently requires a gender dysphoria diagnosis from two doctors to have certain procedures and surgeries. Another bill she filed would, if passed, pay spouses to provide full-time care for their partner. This, Comerford said, would ease the burden on nursing homes.

“It’s had more forward momentum in this session than it ever has,” she explained.

Sabadosa, a Northampton Democrat, said she has filed a bill to eliminate patient cost-sharing for the full scope of pregnancy care, including abortion, prenatal care, childbirth and postpartum care. Cost-sharing generally includes deductibles, coinsurance and copayments, or similar charges.

“And that legislation just moved out of committee, which is very exciting,” she said. “It’s the first time that that’s happened, because this is a bill that’s asking the insurance companies to step up.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.