Tuesday was a crowded day at the State Capitol in Albany. The annual policemen’s memorial service and parade was held, blocking off streets around the Capitol. Meanwhile, a large demonstration and rally was hold on the west side of the Capitol to promote mandatory staffing ratios in health care facilities. A coalition of labor unions and community groups filled the Convention Center of the Empire State Plaza and then hundreds of people marched out on State Street to the west lawn of the Capitol to support the bill. Some in the group including Sullivan County senior activists were pushing for the New York universal health care bill sponsored by Assembly Health Chair Richard Gottfried who addressed the rally.
New York StateWide Senior Action Council organized Grassroots Senior Day in conjunction with the safe staffing rally because it is one of the organization’s legislative priorities again this year. Advocates chanted at the rally that they want a floor vote on the bill which has been gaining momentum and may make it to the floor. The push for staffing ratios is the result of clear evidence that lower staffing ratios that can be seven or eight nurses per patient lead to medical errors and worse patient care. Some nursing homes in the state are being bought by in -state private chains that save money by reducing staff.
The New York State Office for the Aging also held its annual Senior Citizens Day ceremonies at the Egg Performing Arts Center at the Empire State Plaza. Many county aging staff came to Albany with two senior honorees selected in their communities.
Meanwhile, inside the Capitol, advocates and opponents of physician assisted suicide held competing rallies near the legislative chambers. Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Senator Diane Savino announced they have merged differing bills into one main bill for “aid in dying” as they call it and said they hope for a committee vote. A large number of disabled advocates along with church representatives pushed back against the bill. The disabled, many in wheelchairs, came from a number of groups including independent living centers and Not Dead Yet. They say that the bill devalues the disabled. The Assembly Health Committee will be the first battleground for the bill which is not expected to be put on a committee agenda unless there are the votes to pass it. Committee Chair Richard Gottfried is a co-sponsor.
The vote in the committee would be very close according to private tallies being made. This issue does not fit into neat partisan patterns as two Republicans, Clifford Crouch and Janet Duprey are co-sponsors of the Paulin bill. Several Democrats on the committee are co-sponsors of the Paulin bill including Jeff Dinowitz, Charles Lavine, Phil Steck, Andrew Hevesi and Ed Braunstein.
At the same time, there are leading Democrats strongly opposed including influential Hispanic leader Marcos Crespo (who is not on the committee) and Crystal Peoples-Stokes who are on the Health Committee. Other Democrats on the committee who are neutral or undecided so far are Kevin Cahill, Shelly Mayer and Ellen Jaffee. A few other Democrats on the committee are also considered likely to oppose the bill.
Last week over twenty doctors came to Albany and held a press conference to oppose the bill saying their profession is healing not facilitating suicide. They said that patients with terminal illness need palliative care.