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Another Voice

Wealthy citizens can help NY fight coronavirus

By Debora Hayes and Michael Kink

It’s front-page news: a staggering shortage of hospital beds, blood, test kits and supplies. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz warned last week that Western New York was “coming up to our capability” for the public health fight of a lifetime.

The Covid-19 pandemic will stress our health care system beyond its limits at a time when we desperately need it to be resilient enough to care for thousands of new, critically ill patients.

We need additional beds and, more importantly, we need health care workers to staff those beds.

Even before the pandemic, nurses have worked furiously, demanding additional staff for the patients we care for. Health care workers have routinely foregone lunches and breaks during 12-hour shifts in order to complete necessary tasks. Caseloads in some hospital units have doubled, and conditions in long-term care facilities can be even worse.

Basic supplies are often in short supply: cold packs, gauze pads, CDs for patient imaging, bags for dirty linen, oxygen sensors, heart monitors, IV pumps and poles, pillows, blood pressure cuffs and sequential compression devices that prevent blood clots are all vital equipment we’ve run short on in local health care facilities.

At one clinic, nurses began buying specimen cups, soap and paper towels with their own money, because otherwise they would have run out. All of this hurts patient care: People in need can suffer from delayed medications, bedsores or falls, pneumonia and even cardiac arrest.

But this is not a hopeless situation. We can soften the impact of the pandemic and save lives now -- if state lawmakers in Albany provide the necessary resources.

New targeted taxes on billionaires and ultra-millionaires can raise the billions we need to bolster our health care system and enable us to protect all New Yorkers.

Without such funding, health care workers and institutions simply won’t be able to handle the Covid-19 epidemic as effectively as we’d all want. New federal funding is only part of the answer.

As they race toward a final budget, it’s time for state lawmakers in Albany to ask the wealthiest New Yorkers to do more to help fund and sustain the public healthcare system we need.

Our state has more billionaires than anywhere else on the planet – 112 at last count.

Even with volatility in the stock market, these billionaires and the super-rich are doing just fine. Many are holing up in the Hamptons or in their second, third, or fourth homes, waiting out the crisis in luxury. One hedge fund is up over 77% during the crisis.

There are good, fair policy options for raising revenue from the super-rich: an emergency billionaire wealth tax, an increased income tax on ultra-millionaires, a tax on vacant luxury apartments, and a sales tax on Wall Street securities trades.

In this all-hands-on-deck moment, when all of us need to pull together to overcome the crisis, we should ask the wealthiest New Yorkers to step up and do more to fund the strongest possible public health response to the coronavirus and its aftermath.

Just think about this: The richest 1% of New Yorkers, who enjoy an average annual income of $2.2 million, take home 44 times the income of the average New Yorker.  They can afford to do a little more in this time of crisis.

Debora Hayes is area director of the Communications of Workers of America, AFL-CIO. Michael Kink is the executive director of the Strong Economy For All Coalition.

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