There’s a heartbreak to any patient’s cancer diagnosis. So imagine watching my recent patient fight through treatment, knowing that when she exited the hospital, onto San Francisco’s streets, her health would simply unravel because she has no home, no shelter, nowhere to go.
As a registered nurse at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center for 27 years — and a San Franciscan going back generations — I’m reminded by scenes like this that good health is largely determined by socioeconomic forces. That’s why the nearly 100,000 registered nurses of the California Nurses Association, my union, back Jane Kim for state Senate. As a San Francisco supervisor, Board of Education member and longtime progressive activist, Kim has proven the strongest ally to RNs in our common work of keeping everyday people healthy and safe.
Take affordable housing. In a city with the second highest rate of homelessness in the U.S., in a state where 83 percent of homes are beyond the average teacher’s salary, Kim has fought tirelessly to ensure developers build houses working people can afford — negotiating a new standard of 40 percent affordable housing in city-supported and many private developments. That’s in addition to authoring and passing nation-leading tenant protections.
Nurses laud this work because housing influences health. A recent survey of Alameda county health workers showed that paying the majority of one’s income to rent corresponds with an increase in hypertension, mental health emergencies, asthma attacks and numerous other illnesses.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates Kim’s advocacy for public health than her support of Proposition 61 to lower the cost of prescription drugs. And because skyrocketing rents can dominate monthly bills, it’s important that San Franciscans have Healthy San Francisco — which requires companies to direct funds to workers’ health care. When it emerged that hundreds of companies were dipping into their workers’ health funds a few years back, Kim steadfastly insisted the loophole be closed, to the benefit of workers, our patients.
For patients experiencing homelessness, nurses believe in compassion. Kim has exemplified this compassion by securing full-time nurses for homeless shelters and establishing a medical respite shelter for aging and sick homeless residents too ill to be on the streets but not ill enough for hospitalization.
Nurses also know a living wage and educational opportunities are crucial for good public health. Kim organized a coalition of community groups, nonprofits and others to pass the nation’s highest minimum wage: $15 an hour. She has also been leading the way in making City College of San Francisco free. With two nephews attending middle school in San Francisco, I feel good knowing she fights for higher education opportunities that won’t lead to lifelong debt.
And, of course, Kim has helped nurses. Those same affordable housing policies help us recruit and retain experienced nurses, and the nursing program at City College could help train the next generation of caregivers for free.
There’s no question that one candidate best embodies nurses’ values of caring, compassion and community. For a healthy future, bolstered by powerful leadership in Sacramento, nurses say Jane Kim for state Senate.
Maureen Dugan is a board member of the California Nurses Association.