Earlier this week my mother was hospitalized involuntarily under the provisions of a Florida Law known as the “Baker Act.” When the legal requirement for the hospital to hold her expired, and they determined that her benefits (through her health insurance) had been used up, she was shipped out to the first facility that would take her. It was an assisted living facility, which primarily deals with elderly adults who can – to some degree – care for themselves. My mother could not, but what choice did we have? The hospital staff advised us they called the non-profit, inpatient facility that is familiar to me because of my wife’s work in the criminal justice system, but they turned her down, allegedly because of her age (too old).
She was at the assisted living facility less than two days before my dad got the call this morning – the one where my mother was destroying property – the one that resulted in the police being called – the one that resulted in my mother sitting in the back seat of a police cruiser, handcuffed.
When my father arrived on the scene the police waived him over to let him know where they were taking her. The hospital – the place where all of this started earlier in the week – would not take her back, based on the health insurance situation. I’m not sure what was the deciding factor, but the non-profit that turned her down two days ago took her (perhaps due to a contract with the sheriff’s office for Baker Act cases?).
This episode rises to a level of obscenity that defies description. It is accepted as unquestioned truth that no American goes without necessary health care, even if he or she has no insurance. “No one dies on the hospital doorstep,” or so the saying goes. The trouble with our system is the lengths one must go before the care is given. In this case it took the destruction of private property, (essentially) an arrest by the local police, and an involuntary commitment under the least ideal circumstances.
Is this really how we want to take care of ourselves? Health care reform is low on many people’s list of priorities. The reason? Even though an estimated 40 million don’t have health insurance… approximately 260 million do. Of those that do have insurance, most of them (at any given point in time) are in relatively good health, and have no need to test the limits of their coverage.
In the mean time there is a silent, growing minority who are being failed by our health care system. The poor, the chronically ill, and the self employed are the most obvious victims of our system… the ones who can’t afford private coverage. What’s truly insidious about our system is that even those with coverage… and pretty good coverage, by most objective standards, are at risk. My mother’s coverage was pretty good, in that it has covered mental health at all (even when there weren’t laws mandating it). Still, she had to be put in FUCKING HAND CUFFS before we could get her placed in an appropriate inpatient, mental health facility. HAND CUFFS! This for a person who was too squeamish to kill bugs when I was growing up… for someone who didn’t believe in corporal punishment (for her kids)… for someone who didn’t have a violent bone in her body.
What is wrong with us as a society, that we would deny our own people basic care? Think of all the things government pays for… subsidies to grow four times as much corn as we can eat, and fuck all knows what else. I am sick with disappointment in my own country, with my own people. You may not have made my mother sick, but you put the cuffs on her. You gave my father an ulcer. You broke that furniture at the assisted living facility. You broke my heart, you stole my hope, and you took what remained of my mother’s sanity.
YOU can vote.
YOU are the “people,” in a country governed by “the people.”
YOU ultimately decide who gets health care, and who does not.
YOU have failed my mother.
YOU have failed me.
YOU may have ultimately failed yourself.
YOUR decision makes me sick with despair.