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Health Care Workers Rally Against Budget Cuts

By Eileen Buckley

Albany, NY – A number of health care workers from the Buffalo area were among thousands who converged on the state Capitol in Albany Tuesday for a massive rally against Governor Pataki's proposed budget cuts.

It was a long day for Buffalo health care workers. They boarded buses at 4:00 in the morning Tuesday and arrived in time to protest in sleet and snow in Albany.

Many are members of the Service Employees International Union Local 11-99, one of the lead organizers of the rally. SEIU members and local protestors provided updates for WBFO News via their cell phone as the protest escalated Tuesday.

Helen Washington, a long-time nurse with Women's and Children's Hospital in Buffalo, is currently at a the Hospital's Jesse Nash well-baby clinic on the City's East Side. She says funding cuts would make matters worse. Washington says the clinic is already short staffed and desperately needs some of the simplest of supplies.

"There are times that we have gone out with our own funds to purchase band aids," Washington said. "I've worked at Children's for 32 years and I've seen a lot of things go on, but this is the most devastating cuts they are are proposing to make that I've ever seen."

The governor is proposing $2 billion in health care cuts. He says they are necessary as the state faces a multi-billion dollar deficit. Linda Malovecki, who performs ultra sound tests at Children's, says Pataki must restore Medicaid funding or the effects on Children's could be devastating.

"Our prediction is that with $1.6 million Children's would lose in the first year of the budget, we would also lose many staff members," Malovecki said. "We just fought to save Children's Hospital and save quality health care."

The unions says the governor should impose higher taxes on businesses and higher-income New Yorkers instead of health care cuts. They say trimming health care funding could lead to drastic cuts in hospital services and hurt patient care.