I am not going to offer many words of my own. The sole purpose of this diary is to call your attention to a story about an event that should shock and motivate us all.
The cover story in today's Washington Post Magazine is about an annual event in far SW Virginia, in Wise, home turf of our own "va dare.". It is entitled Hidden Hurt, and is subtitled "Desperate for medical care, the uninsured flock by the hundreds to a remote corner of Virginia for the chance to see a doctor." Let me offer the beginning:
Pain hides in these green mountains. Diseased hearts and clouded lungs, aching teeth and anxious minds.
But for three days a year, more than 800 volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and other health-care workers come from all over Virginia and beyond to this isolated place in Appalachia to provide free medical care to those who cannot afford it. Sick and hurting people by the hundreds gather and wait for the gates of the Wise County Fairgrounds to swing open -- their presence a testament to the country's health-care crisis.
PLEASE KEEP READING
Some of you know that I am participating in a Political Leaders Program through the Sorensen Institute at the University of Virginia. Our cohort comes from all over the Commonwealth, and we are a diverse group politically: Dems, Independents, and Repubs. This weekend we were in the Southwestern portion of the state, finishing up in Roanoke. In this our penultimate get-together, we organized our class, election a class president and deciding about a class gift.
But we did more. Led by two of our members who participated in this event in Wise this summer, we committed as a class - all of us - to get together for a reunion volunteering for this event next summer.
I am honored to be a part of a group of people willing to make such a commitment. I am also chagrined that something like this is still necessary in this nation, a nation with untold riches so inequitably distributed that some can spend thousands on vanity cosmetic surgery while others lack access to even the basic medical services.
Even those who have access to health care find how limited it can be. We do not yet provide parity for mental health, and in our discussions about health care we usually totally ignore dental health. We shouldn't - remember Deamonte Driver? If you don't, take a few moments to read For Want of a Dentist - the Washington Post story which raised this issue to national attention. It begins simply enough:
Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.
A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.
If his mother had been insured.
If his family had not lost its Medicaid.
If Medicaid dentists weren't so hard to find.
If his mother hadn't been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.
By the time Deamonte's own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George's County boy died.
As we were deciding to make our commitment yesterday, the class member who works on health care issues for the Kaine administration told us about a woman who flew across the country on her brother's frequent flier miles, hitchhiked from Bristol (the nearest airport) to Wise to get all her teeth extracted, but then had no way to get home. Untreated dental disease can not only lead to infections like that which killed Deamonte Driver, it can also lead to fatal heart disease.
The Post Magazine article will tell you about Stan Brock, the former star of Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom," who organized RAMVC. This event, a day's drive from our nation's Capitol, provides a bright light shining on the unmet needs of so many of our people.
Let me quote about Brock, and about this event:
Now in his 70s, Brock gained fame four decades ago as the anaconda-wrestling co-star of the popular television series "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom." But he has spent the last 23 years flying to some of the poorest places on the planet, bringing free medical care to those who desperately need it. And people rely on that care in rural Virginia, just a day's drive from the U.S. Capitol, he says, just as much as they do in Africa or Latin America.
"The need is massive," Brock says. "We pick up everything from brain tumors to lung cancer to cervical cancer to breast cancer."
Brock takes great pride in the economy and efficiency of the Wise clinic, which costs just $26,000 this year because the doctors, dentists, optometrists, nurses and other workers donate their time. But even as the clinic saves lives and alleviates suffering, Brock knows it amounts to slapping a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. There are approximately 47 million Americans who lack health insurance and another 25 million who are underinsured, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based foundation that supports research on health-care issues. Hospitals on county fairgrounds, Brock says, are not the answer.
slapping a Band-Aid on a gaping wound
Think of the lives cut short or limited because of lack of basic health care. Then please, explain to me how can place political ideology above the lives of these people, our fellow humans. How can one argue that one is Christian or Jewish and ignore the words in Matthew 25 about the least of these or the commands in Torah about justice and leaving the corners of the field? Hell, how can one be a sentient creature and not an unfeeling stone and not recognize that there are few needs more immediate than people in medical need, in crisis.
Obama did poorly in Appalachia, but this is not a partisan issues. Consider this:
Because he lives in Tennessee, Brock has become increasingly focused on the plight of the poor in his own back yard -- Appalachia -- where many people in places such as Wise County go for years without seeing a doctor or dentist.
This is coal country, with an economy that has ridden a boom-and-bust cycle from the arrival of the railroads in the 1880s to the passage of the Clean Air Act almost a century later. The richest seams of coal have dwindled, and many of the remaining jobs have been replaced by mechanization. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, the poverty rate in Wise County is 19.2 percent -- more than twice that of the rest of Virginia. The per capita income is only about $14,000 a year.
And then consider the work of Sister Bernadette Kenny, a nun from the Medical Missionaries of St. Mary, a registered nurse whose mobile Health Wagon goes into the hollows and "treats more than 2,400 people a year with funding from private foundations and patient donations" -
It was Kenny and a fellow Health Wagon nurse, Teresa Gardner, who persuaded Brock to bring his volunteer medical corps to Wise after helping him at a clinic in Tennessee in 2000. They told him how badly their patients needed access to specialists, dentists and eye doctors. From the early 1980s to 2000, the Harvard School of Public Health has found, life expectancies in Appalachia have dropped for both sexes.
In Wise County, "there are patients literally dying of diabetes," says Gardner. The specialists who can help them are a two-hour drive away in Kingsport, Tenn., she says, "if you have insurance."
a two-hour drive away
if you have insurance
I am not going to quote further. I am going to urge you to take the time to read the Post article, to look at the video and pictures, and to pass this on as widely as possible.
We face many problems in this nation. But no matter how great the problems before us, allowing so many people to wither and die young because they lack access to meet their basic medical needs is shameful and unacceptable. It is why our entire approach to the funding and distribution of medical services needs to be rethought.
But we cannot wait for a total redesign or people will continue to suffer, there will be more Deamonte Drivers in our metropolitan areas, and far too many in the remote corners where their stories so often do not get told, where because they are out of sight their needs seem always to be ignored, as they are themselves marginalized except when some politician wants their votes or some movie maker want to portray them as backwards and somehow lesser than the rest of us, those of us who might be classified as "fortunate sons" and daughters.
There are many diaries here that are far better written than is this. But I at least have never written about anything more important. That is why I am sending out the link to this diary to as many people as I can. I want the Post story as widely visible as possible. If the best way I can help accomplish that is to promote this diary, so be it.
But it is not about this diary, and certainly it is not about me. it is about our fellow Americans, and it is most assuredly about us.
Hubert Humphrey once laid down an important marker, which I often find relevant to repeat. I believe it applicable here:
It was once said that the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.
It is moral test not only of a government, but in a democracy of the people and society whom that government purports to represent.
We are now in a celebratory mood about the election. In no way do I seek to dampen our enthusiasm. But our celebrations should not keep us blind from the abject conditions to which so many of our fellow Americans are subject.
Please, do what you can to help bring attention - and more - to this issue, to the needs of the people in places like Wise and elsewhere.
And perhaps then, my final salutation will be appropriate.
UPDATE - it was suggested in the comments that I provide contact info, so here is the link for Remote Area Medical
And for those into Digg links
for this diary (thanks to BigVegan for putting links on DIGG(