The nation's pulic health workers called today for a reordering of national priorities to spend less on the military and instead "bail out public hospitals and public health clinics just as we're going to bail out the Chrysler Corp."
In a series of resolutions and statements, the American Public Health Association said three main groups -- the poor, the young and minorities -- are being "abandoned" and "in an increasing number of cases left to die" as the result of cuts in federal, state and local health and welfare service.
One speaker at the public health meeting told of a young doctor at San Francisco General Hospital, a municipal hospital "who been having nightmares because she has to move patients from intensive care to general wards, knowing they will die."
Dr. Quentin Young, chief of medicine at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, called this sort of thing "very common" at many public hospitals that lack the funds and staff to man even vital services such as intensive-care units. So many public hospitals are being closed or gradually starved for funds, he said, that they could disappear soon, though often they are the only place where the poor and the medically uninsured can get care.
young was named acting head of a new National Coalition for Public General Hospitals by more than 400 doctors and other health workers in an emergency session.
It was one of many such sessions at this major public health meeting here this week to make much the same points: that the poor are losing their hospitals before adequate substitutes have been installed; that many minorities don't get medical care, and that health and welfare services for children are swamped by the illness and stress caused by faimly disintegration and chronic unemployment.
Members of the American Public Health Association, who have been making and hearing these charges at their annual meeting, are the workers -- medical staff and others -- in public health facilities, organizations, and departments and in universities, schools of public health and health-care administration.
Five former APHA presidents warned that "we are facing a public sector health crisis" in which the nation is spending more than $200 billion on health care in private and public funds, but "most of it is going to pay doctor and hospital bills" or do medical research, and "very little to prevent disease."
As an example, said one of the five, Dr. George Pickett, West Virginia state health officer "federal funds for basic preventive health services" -- public health nursing, immunizations, well-baby and pregnancy care, laboratories and the like -- "have been running around $90 million a year for the last 10 year. This fiscal year we'll get $62.5 million."
Giving many such examples, the association:
Urged ratification of the strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT II) "to save lives," but "with no increase in the military budget," to be followed by a 12 percent cut in defense spending "to make money available for health and human services."
Urged federal action, including liberalized Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, to help meet the "urgent crisis" in public hospitals and provide other health services.
In another resolution, the council said health workers and others should "oppose institutional racism" and seek to improve health care and living conditions in every part of the country. This resolution specifically supported the broad goals of the five persons killed Saturday in a shootout at an anit-Klu Klan rally in Greensboro, N.C. Three of the five were doctors of medical graduates and a fourth victim was a hospital worker.