Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fifteen days of blogging for health care reform: The Road to Denver

Guest post by Skylanda.

Today’s the day. The speech-givers have speechified, the spinners have had done their spun, the pundits have spoken their punditry. Tonight the man of the hour takes the stage in front of some 70,000 some-odd live and some millions more by television and internet to accept the Democratic nomination.

Like thousands of others, I am in Denver among the revelers and the protesters and the bloggers and the masses and the elite. I come here with a group called Healthcare United and their website is worth a look if health care reform is up your alley.
Sponsored by the two million-strong Service Employees International Union (the largest health care employee union in America), Healthcare United is a newly-formed organization designed to bring together people from all branches of the healthcare field - nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, nursing aides, doctors, and everything in between - to bridge the gap between these workers, start a mutual conversation on how health care reform might look that would account for every level of care, and work toward national goals of reform. The SEIU is the umbrella organization that oversees the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR) - the union that stepped up when the administration at my residency decided unilaterally to double or triple individual contribution to medical coverage a couple of years ago. The residents unionized; the move to dump increasing costs on one of the most underpaid programs in the western US was halted. Among the points negotiated in the first union contract - alongside the first pay raise in years and caps on insurance premium increases - was a $25,000 patient care fund for the residents to collectively distribute to projects that benefited patients in a system that chronically underfunds hospitals, providers, and patients alike. In so many ways, unionization of the residency program has worked toward improving patient care in my state - though the small but symbolic patient care fund, to the renewed ability to attract quality trainees to a region underserved by every medical specialty from primary care to the most sub-specialized service.

We caravanned two vehicles up to Denver from my neck of the woods - one of the CIR residents and one of the Healthcare United volunteers. Since I got on at the last stop, I hopped on with the nurses and staff of Healthcare United. Between naps (I had been up all night - a crash c-section, a couple of peds admissions…not a terrible night, but no more than an hour of sleep either), I chatted with and quietly talk of what healthcare looks like from their end of the short stick. These stories are always three-pronged: one prong is the patients they see harmed from the stunning holes in the system; another prong is the staff they se
e the harmed from the gaps in safety, in pay, in benefits; and the third prong is the families - usually their own - that inevitably suffer a story or two of harm from underinsurance, the gap between insurance and the required cash contribution to one's care, or lack of access to care altogether. Their tales sounded eerily similar to mine, and I am struck by how little difference there is in our plights despite how different our jobs sometimes our. We did not get to talking about solutions, but I wonder how similar or different those might be too.

In Denver we attended a rally where SEIU advocacy groups - single payer players, health care for all fighers - gathered from all across the nation to speak for health care reform. The afternoon was MC'd by none other than Chuck D (yeah, that Chuck D), and if anyone can tell me how to upload a wave file from my phone to the web, I can stream a live version of Fight the Power - 2008-style - here on this site. It was a surprisingly small (but enthusiastic) crowd for a free concert that also included an appearance by Death Cab for Cutie (are they the living image of Flight of the Conchords, or what?) and local phenomenon Devotchka...but hey, it's a Wednesday afternoon, apparently some people have to work. The speakers ran the range from health care workers to local organizers, and the diversity of speakers spoke to the broad-reaching appeal that Obama brings to the table.
In the evening we gathered at a local watering hole for a standing-room only viewing of the goings on just down the way. The crowd cheered and jeered on cue as if we were front row at the event itself. Much merriment was made, many optimistic views of the future were offered up for hope. The crowd broke up happy and inebriated on the drunken brew of hope. In the back of my mind the words of one of the afternoon's speakers rang through again. On the millions without insurance, children without coverage, elders without access to care, his voice called clear and true...

It is not only wrong, it is a sin, and it is a shame. Wrong, sin, and a shame. Wrong, sin, and a shame...

Cross-posted at my blog, Loose Chicks Sink Ships. Please note that all references to patients have been altered and/or fictionalized to protect the identity of those individuals. Please excuse any technical difficulties...I'm writing from a pda from the stands of Invesco stadium - more to come!