National Nurses United

National Nurse Magazine March 2011

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Profile_Jan 3/17/11 9:29 PM Page 15 Their final impression was that, overall, nursing care in California is much safer for both nurses and patients than in South Korea. The way Americans access healthcare, or as in the case of 50 million uninsured residents who cannot access healthcare, is a different story. "Healthcare in the United States seems to be broken compared to other OECD countries," said Lee, KHMU's strategy director. "You spend 18 percent of your GDP, but have higher infant mortality rates, for example. Even though the United States leads in "The nursing is so intense. People other areas, in healthcare, leave and don't come back. it seems to be lagging behind the rest Some get married, some go of the world." to other industries, and some South Koreans enjoy a singlejust stop working." payer healthcare insurance system of limited scope, where 64 percent of their costs are covered by federal government insurance, like Medicare in the United States. Progressive months to conduct further research. Their latest trip will healthcare activists such as KHMU have consistently worked to improve and expand their healthcare coverage up to 100 percent, help them complete their but the health insurance industry lobbies in the other direction in studies into ratios and comorder to make more money selling supplemental insurance polipile their findings into a major report which they plan cies to the public. Unfortunately, South Korea's current president, Lee Myung-bak, promotes the privatization of healthcare. Here, to issue on May 12, InternaKHMU and NNU nurses are similar in that both groups would tional Nurses Day. In the fall, like to achieve universal, comprehensive, single-payer coverage for when the new session of their country's residents. "The private insurance companies South Korea's legislative aggressively try to lower that 64 percent," said Lee. "This may be body, the National Assembly, the most critical issue for the next presidential election in 2012." convenes, KHMU plans to The forces of healthcare privatization in South Korea do not introduce ratio legislation. stop at just insurance. Major hospital and pharmaceutical compaWith their current, crushing patient loads, Korean nurses are nies and other healthcare corporations would also like to enter the constantly in fear for their patients, their license, and their own Korean market, a move that would be made much easier if the well-being, with most registered nurses working an average of five years before burning out and leaving the profession. While there are United States and South Korea approve a free trade agreement 240,000 registered nurses in South Korea, only 100,000 practice at this coming year. Similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the KORUS FTA would eliminate tariffs the bedside. About 20 percent of those RNs are member of KHMU. between the countries and open up Korean markets for all kinds "The conditions are bad," said Lee Soon Ja, a medical surgical of financial services. It would also, however, undermine the KoreRN. "When we give medicine, we have to do several patients all at an national healthcare system by making it easier for huge U.S. once, so there is a greater chance of errors and safest practices are not followed. The nursing is so intense. People leave and don't come healthcare corporations to operate there. For example, hospitals in South Korean are currently run as not for profits, but the agreeback. Some get married, some go to other industries, and some just ment would expedite the proliferation of for-profit hospitals in stop working." The average age of a KHMU member is 33. "free enterprise zones." During their time here, the Korean nurses said that they The agreement also contains a provision making it more difficult observed a number of similarities between Korean and American for the South Korean government to regulate and rein in major nursing. Both groups share a high sense of responsibility, duty, and healthcare corporations. Under the investor nation clause, if a advocacy to their patients. Both groups face pressure by managecountry imposes new rules that a corporation believes undermines ment to do more work in less time, as well as to treat patients as its profitability, it can sue the nation. "customers" and to think of themselves as customer service repreFor these reasons and more, KHMU and NNU have taken a sentatives. joint position against the KORUS FTA. Nursing in the two countries also differs in many respects, too. The Korean nurses said they are grateful for the chance to spend For example, in addition to the much higher patient load in South time with, network, and learn from NNU nurses. "While the rest of Korea, nurses there are expected to fulfill many of the duties supthe labor movement seems to be under a depression," said Yoo, "It's port personnel here in the United States would normally handle. great to see a sister union organizing and winning, fighting for its Sung Hee Kwon, an operating room RN at Korea University Hospimembers and society as a whole, and never retreating." tal, was impressed that OR nurses here never leave their patients' bedsides. Back home, she is expected to also manage all the OR equipment, supplies, cleaning, set up, ordering, and inventory. Lucia Hwang is editor of National Nurse. numerical staffing ratios in California and efforts to pass more legislation to secure ratios in all 50 states. KHMU then sent its senior director of strategy and planning, Lee Joo Ho, to CNA for four MARCH 2011 W W W. N A T I O N A L N U R S E S U N I T E D . O R G N AT I O N A L N U R S E 15

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