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YYY: The clock ticks on in the waiting game of health care reform

The clock ticks on in the waiting game of health care reform

 Street Roots (USA) 03 June 2019

(Originally published: 08/2009) “I am not naive enough to believe that health care reform is a fix-all solution to the many-faceted problems people face. However, I speak for many people I’ve known when I say that health care reform that provides greater access to regular, preventative care will make a difference in many lives. It is my hope that this change is coming, and that it won’t be too late.” Office manager and pastoral assistant for The Downtown Chapel of St. Vincent De Paule Catholic Parish in Portland, Sally Martin, emphasises the need for urgent health care reform in the United States. (807 words) - By Sally Martin

PORTLAND, USA - Mark has been around for years. He has even met my sister, and to this day he still asks about her. She came to visit me during the winter before last, and they spent a cold, clear afternoon in the lobby of The Downtown Chapel, simply hanging out and talking. From time to time my sister will ask how he's doing, and my answers always feel empty. "He's OK, he is trying to get in to his apartment still…", "He's doing alright; he just got out of the hospital again." This year we have hardly seen him, and every time he has come in to visit I am both relieved that he is okay, and sad to see that he is still in the same place.

Last winter the place where he was sleeping at night burned to the ground. He was sleeping in the doorway of a building in an industrial section of town, I read about the fire in the newspaper. I think that I was more upset than he was. I remember saying, "Mark, I'm so glad you weren't sleeping there when the fire started." He seemed to shrug off my concern that morning, the look on his face told me this is the type of thing that is always happening to me; this is the chaos that is my constant companion in this life.

I have always admired his determination to be positive, despite the circumstances that shape his life. I know very little about him, but what I do know is that his life is hard. He struggles with various mental health issues, and has been working with a number of agencies to help him meet his needs. He is one of the more vulnerable folks I know, it seems like he is always having stuff stolen or being taken advantage of.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about Mark, with all the talk of health care reform in the news. Mark is dependent upon hospitals and emergency rooms for his primary care, and he is quick to share with who ever will listen about his latest struggles to feel good.

"Lately I've just been soooooo exhausted, like, major exhausted in the most tired kind of way," he shared one morning, as he rested his head in his arms on my desk. He did look tired that day, and like it had been a while since he had an opportunity to rest, eat a good meal, and clean up. At that moment, we were trying to talk to someone at the Housing Authority of Portland. Mark was worried that he had missed some messages, since his new cell phone had recently been stolen. We got through, and there was no news on his housing, but they thanked him for checking in.

I watched Mark and smiled, hoping to put him at ease. He started pulling papers out of his pockets and becoming agitated, "These hospital papers say that I am sick… that I need rest… Sally, if I read these to someone do you think it will matter or will they just thank me for calling?"

Unsure of what to say or do, I asked for the papers and glanced at them, hoping for any clues as to how to help him proceed in advocating for himself. What I saw at the top of the page gave me pause. It read: Diagnosis - Lack of access to health care and social support. There was no listing of any physical health problems, other than exhaustion, and no treatment prescribed. I scanned the room; most of the people in the room shared the same diagnosis.

My eyes fell on Leanne, who often needs our help in paying for prescription medications she has not been able to afford for a while. She tries to make ends meet on her fixed income, but prices for everything have been going up this year. Next to her was Jamie, who we recently helped with tickets to the ER because the pain in his infected tooth had become unbearable. "What I need is a dentist, but I am on the waiting list at the clinic for an extraction." As I looked at each person, my mind was flooded with more memories: when I had to call the paramedics for Whitney when she had a seizure, one of the paramedics said, "Oh gosh, Whitney, this is the third time we've seen you this week."

I am not naive enough to believe that health care reform is a fix-all solution to the many-faceted problems people face. However, I speak for many people I've known when I say that health care reform that provides greater access to regular, preventative care will make a difference in many lives. It is my hope that this change is coming, and that it won't be too late.

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