Workers at San Francisco General Hospital protested the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act in front of their workplace Friday, saying rolling back the program would impact both patients and workers’ ability to care for them.
On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump promised repeatedly to overturn the health care program enacted by his predecessor, and on Friday, he signed an executive order to “ease the burdens” of the act. To its supporters, a repeal of the act would mean the loss of health insurance for millions. In protest of Trump’s inauguration Friday, some 70 nurses, staff, doctors, and SEIU 1021 union members marched in circles in front of the hospital’s 23rd Street entrance, chanting, “What do we want? Healthcare! When do we want it? Now!”
The protesters, diverse in both ethnic background and age, carried signs saying “No cuts to medicare,” “Safe Staffing means Patient Safety” and “Protect Healthcare Access.”
“Before I had this job, I relied on the [Affordable Care Act]. It was a lifesaver for me, and I know it is for a lot of people,” said Jessica Lawless, a union organizer with SEIU 1021. She expects workloads to become increasingly untenable if the program is overturned, because of an increase in uninsured patients who rely on public hospitals, particularly in emergency rooms, like SF General Hospital.
“I’m truly fearful of what it’s going to look like,” Lawless said.
Concern for those who might lose insurance cover permeated the protest.
“It affects a lot of our patients, they have Obamacare,” said Ingrid Cobb, a food services worker at the hospital. “We have a lot of love for our patients.”
The consequences of losing health care can be dire, said one doctor who works at the hospital.
“I talk to paramedics in the ambulances. Patients, if they get in a car accident or have a bad injury, they don’t want to come to the hospital because they’re afraid to pay the bill,” said Dr. Josie Valenzuela, a member of the Committee of Interns and Residents of the SEIU, and a resident at the hospital.
More broadly, many of the protesters saw the promised healthcare rollback as part of a nationwide moral decline, with many of them making references to Trump’s controversial statements about sexual assault, women, people with disabilities, and immigrants.
“Our country is diseased with misogyny. Our country is diseased with racism,” said Sasha Cuttler, a nurse at the hospital.
“We are not happy with Trump. He’s a cheater, he’s a liar, and he’s a bigot…But this is what America wanted, I’m not sure [why]” said organizer Anna Her. “The only thing I can do is, I told my children, don’t forget how I raised you: Dignity, morals and values.”
Local government was well represented at the march. Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Malia Cohen, Aaron Peskin and Sandra Lee Fewer all addressed the crowd, urging collaboration and political mobilization in the Trump era.
“A lot of rights are under attack in America, immigration, human rights, civil rights… American values are also under attack,” said District 1 Supervisor Fewer. “It’s time for us to unite together. San Francisco, the rest of the nation is looking to us for leadership.”
Peskin, of District 3, emphasized San Francisco General’s role in caring for those in most dire need.
“You are the frontline of our healthcare delivery to our most vulnerable, and we acknowledge that and we appreciate that,” he told the assembled protesters and referenced the city’s Healthy San Francisco, which offers healthcare to all who live or work in San Francisco.. “San Francisco is the city that pioneered healthcare reforms long before the Affordable Care Act came to Washington DC. San Francisco has been at the forefront of teaching this country that healthcare is a right.”
Though she called the inauguration a “dark day,” Ronen expressed optimism when she addressed the crowd through a megaphone.
“I think we have an opportunity under this new dark administration to get farther than we’ve ever gotten before,” she said. “The injustice and the fact that the system is rigged has never been more obvious or clear than it is right now.”