Friday, November 12, 2010

Why Curry Todd Stands by What He Said

There's been a lot of outrage in the blogosphere by what state rep Curry Todd of Collierville said in a meeting of the Fiscal Review Committee in Nashville this week, and well there should be. Todd asked a state health official whether potential patients are asked to show proof of citizenship before receiving prenatal care. The official tried to explain to Todd that they are actually prohibited from asking for proof of citizenship by federal mandates. Todd then rather huffily said, "They can go out there like rats and multiply, then." You can watch the entire exchange here:

If Todd's concern is about what health care for indigent people is costing the state, he should be much more concerned about the health of native born Americans who are covered by TennCare. Care for TennCare patients who have chronic diseases caused by "lifestyle" factors costs the state many millions every year. In contrast, immigrants are relatively young and healthy compared to native-born Americans. Most have not lived here long enough to have become sickened by our toxic lifestyle. They don't require as much medical care, so covering them is fairly inexpensive.

Pregnant women can get "presumptive eligibility" coverage under TennCare to pay for prenatal care and labor and delivery. Would Todd prefer for them to get no prenatal care and deliver at home without medical assistance? That's very short-sighted, since the resultant child will almost certainly be covered under TennCare--because he/she is automatically a US citizen. It makes much more sense to make sure that child gets a healthy start in the world by providing adequate prenatal care for the mother than to have TennCare pay for much more expensive medical care for that child later.

My point is that Todd's outrage at people who come here and "breed like rats" is not based on fiscal concerns at all, because there's plenty of evidence that providing relatively inexpensive preventive care like "presumptive eligibility" for pregnant women actually saves the state money in the long run. If Todd had not shouted down that poor lady who was trying answer his questions, she could have told him that. But really, the whole point of the exercise was for him to look tough to his teabagger constituents, many of whom really do think of immigrants as "rats." They are just as pleased by Todd's outburst as we are horrified by it. So, I guess Todd can consider this "mission accomplished." It's so sad that this is what our great immigrant nation has come to.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Because It's Not Really About Saving the Little Baby Fetuses

The conservative Republicans who now control the Tennessee General Assembly like to brag about being pro-life--especially in an election year. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, who is running for Governor this year, is particularly emphatic about his "proven record of fighting to protect the unborn." (Lifted from Ramsey's own website:

Last year, Ramsey made a big show of threatening an independent government panel, the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency, for approving Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region's application to move to a medical office building in Midtown Memphis that happens to be in the general vicinity of Memphis Catholic High School. When the deal fell through for other reasons, Ramsey was quick to issue a press release taking credit for blocking the move. Ramsey was also quick to take credit for legislation last year designed to "defund" Planned Parenthood by denying it a share of Tennessee's Title X federal family planning funding--legislation that was not entirely successful because there is literally no other agency in Shelby County qualified or willing to provide the full scope of family planning and related health services required by the Title X grant program.

But now the social conservatives show their true colors. As Speak to Power points out, one of the programs Republicans have elected to cut in this tough budget year is a $4.5 million program designed to reduce infant mortality in Tennessee. We know all about infant mortality here in Memphis. Memphis has more infant deaths than any other city in the United States, with a rate of 15 deaths for every 1,000 births.  It's an issue that has received extensive media attention here in Memphis and nationally. Infant mortality is both a personal tragedy for the families affected and a complicated public health issue with a myriad of contributing factors. After a flurry of embarrassing media coverage of the issue, state health officials came through with a number of programs designed to address the problem, the $4.5 million one among them, which also brought in a significant amount of federal matching funds to Tennessee.

So, if Ramsey is truly devoted to "protecting the unborn," as he says on his website, why would he not fight to keep this infant mortality reduction program instead of characterizing it as "pork"? Could it be because the bulk of the $4.5 program's efforts probably go to benefit the many poor and uninsured new and expectant mothers in Memphis and Shelby County? The disdain that religiously and politically conservative folks in Middle and East Tennessee have for Memphis and its "problems" is legendary. And you know what they're talking about when they say "problems." Yes, face it. Conservatives in the rest of Tennessee don't like it that Memphis is a majority black city that usually votes Democrats into office.

But it's more than that. Conservatives, for all their zeal for "life," don't approve of pregnancies that result from pre-marital sex. One reason they hate Planned Parenthood is that they think access to birth control makes it too easy for unmarried young people to enjoy sex, without suffering the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. Their real goal is to force everyone to live by the same religious and moral strictures that they promote, but too often don't even live by themselves.

So, remember, when conservatives tout their pro-life family values, they're not talking about saving babies. Because if they really care about babies, why do they cut the health and social programs that benefit babies, children and families every chance they get?

Update: May 29, 2010

"Despite pleas by children's advocates and testimony that babies will die, Republicans on the state Senate Finance Committee stripped funding for an infant-death reduction initiative that officials say is reducing Memphis and Tennessee's high rates of infant mortality." From this morning's CA article. Yet more proof that conservatives only care about "unborn" babies. Once they're out of the womb, they're on their own!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

What I've Learned About the Health Care System

I've decided to write about a recent run-in my family had with the for-profit health care system in this country, not because I'm looking for sympathy, but because I think others can learn from our experiences. We found out that if you don't make the right decisions in one of the most stressful situations a family can face--a health crisis--your loved one could be shunted out of the hospital without getting needed care, and into "home health care," which turns out to be very little care at all.

While I was away from home on a business trip last week, my elderly mother fell in her home where she lives alone with her very obese dachshund. Paramedics rushed her to the emergency room of Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Pelham, Alabama. My sister, Betsey, who works at church day care center in nearby Chelsea, Alabama, quickly rushed to the hospital and tried to call me to let me know what had happened. After some confusion, my husband was able to reach me on my cell phone, and relay the message but it took me another agonizing hour or so before I was able to actually talk to my sister. Even so, she didn't have much to tell me. The doctors said that our mother may have broken her hip, but they wouldn't know for sure until after examining the X-rays. As most everyone knows, breaking a hip is one of the worst things that can happen to an elderly person. The injuries don't heal well and incapacitate an older person for weeks or months at a time. Many hip fracture victims never fully recover, and as a doctor told me later, mortality rates for the elderly in the year following a hip fracture are 25%.

I spent a long afternoon worrying and waiting for Betsey to call me back. When she finally did, she relayed the good news that our Mom had not broken her hip, but instead had fractured her pelvis. My sister told me the doctors said that was a much less serious injury, and that my mother was not qualified to be admitted to the hospital. Betsey told me that a social worker who called herself a "patient advocate" told her that my mother would be sent home with "home health care," and she would be just fine in 4 to 6 weeks. I found out later that she also told my sister that she couldn't be fired from her job if she took off work to take care of our mother, but that wasn't really an option for my sister, because my sister works for hourly wages and if she misses work she doesn't get paid! I didn't know what to think about all this. I considered flying directly to Birmingham, but found that changing the flight would cost hundreds of dollars. So I decided to fly back to Memphis as planned the next day and then drive to Birmingham on Friday. In the meantime, Betsey took two unpaid days to stay with our mother in her house.

When I finally got to Birmingham, I found my Mom in her reclining lift chair. She seemed fine, although she was in a lot of pain and was a little drugged up. Not long after I got there, my Mom demonstrated that she could stand up and with the help of a walker, make her slow and painful way to the bathroom.  My sister had also picked up a "potty chair," which looks just like the kind used for potty-training kids, but of course, it's adult-sized. The idea was that if our Mom couldn't make it all the way to the bathroom, she could at least make her way to the chair. I thought that probably made sense...but I kept asking when these "home health care" workers would come and help out. Wouldn't someone come and help our Mom get to the toilet and bathe? Betsey told me they had come on Thursday and filled out a bunch of paperwork to get her "in the system," but they didn't actually do anything to help out.

Friday afternoon, a physical therapist associated with the home health care agency also dropped in. She was nice and talked to us while typing into a kind of PDA or smart phone, but she also said that she was just there to fill out paperwork and get our Mom "in the system." I asked her when these home health care aides would be coming in, but she said she didn't know, but that she could set up twice-weekly physical therapy sessions. I was glad to hear that because I have always thought my Mom needed physical therapy. She is 82 years old, has severe arthritis, osteoporosis and a bad back, and was having a pretty hard time getting around even before this latest incident. But she was still living on her own, still able to cook and clean for herself, and she still drove her own car to run errands...she just doesn't do any of this very fast. I thought then and still hope now that when she recovers from this fracture, she will be able to go back return to doing all her usual activities. Meanwhile, I was still wondering when the real help would arrive...Eventually I let Betsey go on to her house and got my Mom bedded down. She decided to sleep in her chair because the bed was too soft and she couldn't get comfortable. I made sure she had everything she needed, then went to bed in the guest room.

Well, things went south in a hurry the next day. The first time I went in to check my Mom, she had slid down in the chair and couldn't lift herself out of it, and frankly I couldn't lift her out of it either. Fortunately my sister had arrived and together we were finally able get her up (after almost overturning the chair)! But that first trip to the potty chair was a complete disaster. Although we can get the carpet cleaned, I began to have serious doubts that all this would work out. Once the pain medicine wore off overnight, Mom was in too much pain to move at all, let alone get up and walk to a potty chair...but after taking the hydrocodone prescribed for her, she was too woozy and unsteady to get to her feet either.

As the day wore on, it became more obvious to me that our Mom would not be able to cope on her own. I called the home health care agency to find out when and how we could get some home health care workers to come help out. The on-call nurse let me know (rather rudely, I thought), that the home health care agency didn't actually provide any care. They were merely there to help teach the family members how to take care of the sick or injured person. That got my Irish up! I said, "Well, we can't be here all the time, and I guarantee she's going to fall again if she doesn't get 24-hour care!"  She told me I would have to talk to her doctor, but that it was almost impossible for someone to be placed into rehab or assisted living after they had been released from the hospital.

It was Saturday, but even so, I called the doctor's on-call number. A short while later, a Dr. Puckett called me back. He wasn't actually my Mom's doctor and had never even met her before, he was just on call for her primary care physician. I told him the situation, and I must have been pretty convincing because he agreed to make a few phone calls to try to help our mom out. About an hour and a half later, he called back and told me that the only way to get Mom in rehab was to re-admit her to the hospital through the emergency room....and the only reason she could be re-admitted was if she was suffering "intractable pain." But, he told me that we had to get her to the hospital before shift change at 5 p.m. I looked at the clock...and it was already almost 3. I quickly called Betsey and asked her to come over as soon as she could to help me get Mom into the car so we could get her back to the hospital. In the meantime, outside, the sky just opened up. A major storm front that had earlier slammed Memphis was now hitting our part of Alabama hard. While I was trying to figure out how to get her into the car without getting her soaked, a mind-numbing blaring noise started blasting throughout the house!

My mom's home alarm system had somehow been triggered by the storm. The problem was, although the house was wired for an alarm system, my mom never took out a contract on it, so there was nobody we could call to help us turn it off! And it was CRAZY loud!

When my sister arrived, we started screaming at each other. She wanted to know why I hadn't gotten Mom into the car yet! Meanwhile our mom was leaning over the walker and hobbling very slowly in our direction--painfully slowly. At that point, Betsey started yelling at her like she was a mule, "Giddyup! Hurry! Hurry!" Our mom almost started crying and said, "Betsey stop yelling at me!" Then Betsey said, "Okay, we'll just carry her!" I said, "NO!" Since it took 3 paramedics to pick her up after she fell the first time, I knew there was no way that was going to work. I think that because the alarm was BLARING so loud, none of us could think straight. But eventually Betsey got the bright idea to call the fire department to get them to turn off the alarm. Soon a big red fire truck showed up and 3 burly firefighters climbed down. They not only figured out a way to turn the alarm off, they also helped us lift Mom into the car. Thank God! We were finally on the way to the hospital.

She had been released from that very same hospital just 3 days earlier, but we had to tell our story three times to three different nurses. I instructed my mom to act like she was in "intractable pain," which by that time after all she had been through, was not hard for her to do. Two hours later, we got word that they were taking Mom to a room, but we were still in suspense, were they officially admitting her or not? Shortly after they had brought her to her room, an orderly came to take my mom to get an MRI, a test they hadn't bothered to do the first time she'd been at the hospital. While she was gone, a Dr. Julian Munoz came in to talk to me. He was 30-something, cute, and had a Cubano accent. He was very somber as he told me that the prognosis for these kinds of fractures in elderly people is not good. 25% die within a year. Even though hers was a simple fracture, he told me that it's not the broken bone that kills them, but complications like pneumonia that result from being bedridden and subsequent falls.

After giving me that sober warning, he told me that he was going to admit our mom for a few days so that they could treat her for pain with intravenous drugs and do some further testing, then he was going to recommend that she be released to a rehabilitation facility. I was SO relieved! Of course, it was all contingent on Medicare approval. I later told my sister she might still have to fight to make sure our mom got the care she needed. Betsey is just not as assertive as I am. I told her she would have to channel her inner me. "You mean my inner bitch!" she said. Well, yes, I agree. I am more of a bitch than she is.

So what have we learned here? 1.) If you're older or in poor health, you need a friend or relative who will advocate for you if you become sick or injured. Preferably one who lives in the same town as you do. Because in their zeal to cut costs, hospital administrators make decisions that are not in their patients' best interest. Does it really make sense that hospitals are for-profit operations? Should someone really be making money off my mother's pain and suffering? 2.) "Home health care" is a complete misnomer. How is it health care when no one is providing even a modicum of care? All they do is fill out the paperwork so they can bill Medicare for the care they are NOT providing. What a rip-off.

Update:  It turned out our mom's pelvis was fractured in 3 places. She is now out of the hospital and in a rehab facility where she's getting daily physical therapy. I don't know how long she will stay there, but I hope it's long enough for her to fully recover from her injuries and go back to living independently.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Check Your Rights at the Door, Pregnant Lady!

I've been reading about a recent case that has got me really riled up, and if it doesn't disturb you, too, then you must watch Fox News. If you are a woman or a man who cares about women and this doesn't scare the bejesus out of you, you're just not paying attention. 

A Florida doctor ordered "bedrest" for a woman who was 25 weeks pregnant and apparently at risk of miscarrying. She told him that she couldn't just go to bed for the rest of her pregnancy because she had a job and two small children to take care of. So the doctor reported her to Florida's version of DCS, who ordered her confined to a hospital and denied her request to be transferred to another hospital where she could get a second opinion. The ACLU took up her cause and appealed to Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal. And the court sided with the state. Check this out:

After a brief telephone hearing, and no review of her medical records or consideration of a second medical opinion, the circuit court summarily ordered Ms. Burton to submit to any and all medical treatments and interventions — including eventually a C-section — that the hospital's medical staff deemed appropriate. To top it off, the court ordered her to remain confined on constant bed rest at the very hospital where the disagreement arose, and expressly prohibited her from switching to another hospital.

Let's review: a woman tells a doctor she can't comply with his recommendation of bedrest for the remainder of her pregnancy. The doctor reports her to DCS, as he would a child abuser. For the safety of the fetus, the woman is confined to a hospital against her will, away from her small children who need her, and ordered to submit to any and all medical treatment the doctors order, whether she wants it or not.

Read more about this outrageous case here: and here:

If you haven't read "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood, you really should. It was also made into a movie in 1990, starring Robert Duvall and Natasha Richardson. The current parallels with Atwood's apocalyptic future are unnerving. In her dystopian world, there was an epidemic of infertility, especially among the upper class. With the blessing of the government, wealthy couples could kidnap or buy a woman of proven fertility to act as a "handmaid" who would live with the couple and have sex with the husband (which neither was supposed to enjoy) until she produced a child. The wealthy couple would then take the baby from its rightful mother, discard the now unneeded broodmare, and raise the precious child as their own. The "handmaids" themselves had no rights or significance; their only value was in their ability to produce babies.

Does a woman forfeit her Constitutional rights just because she forgot to take a pill or the condom broke? When is a potential human (a fetus) more deserving of human rights than a fully grown woman? Even when a woman is pregnant with a much-wanted child, shouldn't her health and well-being take precedence over that of the fetus, which is always just a potential human until it is actually born? I'm really disturbed by the way our society is going on this issue.

Also, who is supposed to pay for the expensive hospital stay and medical treatment that this woman tried to refuse? It's not clear whether she is insured or not. If she's not insured, how much do you want to bet the hospital has already sent her a bill for thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars? If she is poor and on Medicaid, who do you think is going to pick up the tab? Yep, you and I are, as taxpayers. Even if she is insured, her insurance company will pass the costs of her treatment on to consumers through higher premiums, fees and deductibles. Ultimately we'll all pay more. In a world of constantly rising medical costs is that a good use of our limited health care funds?

January 15, 2010 update:

I found another news article about this case:

This story clarifies some facts in the case. For example, the woman was only confined to the hospital for 3 days before she miscarried, thereby ending her forced confinement. And...she smoked cigarettes. But while everyone knows smoking isn't good for the fetus, smoking is still a legal activity that a lot of Americans indulge in. It's not like she was smoking crack. I still don't understand why her doctor took this adversarial attitude toward her. Why confine her to a hospital against her will?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Grief and Blogging

Memphis blogger and local political junkie Steve Steffens tragically lost his companion of 20 years this week. I met Lauren Hesse once at a Drinking Liberally meet-up a few weeks ago. She seemed like a quiet, thoughtful person. She didn't say a lot, but her love for Steve shone on her face. Newscoma wrote a moving tribute to her here.

I learned through the blogosphere that Lauren suffered a sudden and massive heart attack over the weekend. One thing social media is great at is spreading news. There was an immediate outpouring of sympathy for Steve and Lauren's family in the blogging community. Like so many of Steve's friends and fellow bloggers, my heart goes out to him. I've lost both my grandmothers, an aunt and worst of all, my father, but it's hard for me to imagine losing a mate. After a certain age we expect to lose our parents and other relatives. Intellectually we know it's going to happen some day. But when you plan your life around another person as Steve did with Lauren and the way the Captain and I have with each other--the loss must seem unbearable. However, life goes on for the living.

This sudden loss really brought home to me that every day we share with a loved one is precious. I resolve to never let a day go by without telling the Captain how much I love him. Life is short, and we must never take each other for granted while we share this world together.

About Me

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Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Cute, fluffy, and not afraid to leave a mess on the sidewalk!