Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How Dare They? How Dare We?

I’m ashamed to be an American tonight. How can I live in a country with so much wealth where greedy, profiteering men run hospitals that dump the indigent sick—so ill they must be transported by ambulance—out on the street on Skid Row, hoping that they will become someone else’s problem. If the worst happens and they die, at least it won’t be near the hospital.

There are many things that make this story even worse, if that is possible.

First, in at least one of Sunday’s cases documented by the Los Angeles police, a man was transported to Skid Row and dumped against his will, even after he told the hospital personnel he wanted to go to his son’s home. His family is horrified and outraged. They had not even been notified by the hospital the man was to be released. I have to believe this cannot be the only instance like this where the individual’s wishes were ignored and overridden.

Second, the hospital administrators are lying through their teeth about what has happened in the face of police video and still photographic documentation, as well as officers who witnessed five cases of the dumping. Further, some of the rats (in this case one of the ambulance companies) are deserting the sinking ship. Their employees are singing like birds and say that this practice has been going on for some time and involves other hospitals in addition to the one caught last Sunday.

We have plenty of shame for how we handle our homeless problem in this country, for how we have ducked the difficult issue of the mentally ill, going from one extreme, forced institutionalization, prior to the Supreme Court decision, to simply dumping them on the streets if their families are unable to care for them.

But not to provide medical care? To say to the homeless, we don’t want you in our nice suburb, you go downtown to the smelly, dangerous, dirty Skid Row, the only place you are fit for?

And lest we feel somewhat smug here in Florida since this, after all, happened in California, our news has been filled this past year with stories of indigent people refused medical care by local hospitals. Even the poor woman shot in the eye by the stray bullet on New Year’s Eve had difficulty receiving proper care. And then there is Orlando Regional Medical Center. Flying in the face of all common sense, they say that the poor healthy expectant mother who went into the hospital just to have a baby and contracted a superbug (known to flourish in hospitals) causing her to lose her arms and legs and very nearly her life must have brought the infection in with her.

Our city council has made it against the law to feed the homeless near City Hall in the parks.

How dare they? How dare we?

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote in a 1985 opinion that the plight of the disabled, prior to the ADA, exemplified a "regime of state mandated segregation... that in its virulence and bigotry rivaled, and indeed paralleled, the worst excesses of Jim Crow."

We are now doing the very same thing to the homeless. We can do better than this.

• Let’s require our lawmakers to make hospital dumping illegal.
• Let’s require private for-profit hospitals to do their share of charitable care.
• Let’s go to our churches and schools and clubs and talk to our fellows about these horrors.
• Let’s all rise up and say, “This is NOT what we want. This is NOT who we are. We are all human beings.”

We are all worthy of the bare minimum of medical care, food, a roof overhead, and the freedom to obtain them in whatever part of the land we want to be in—not herded into a segregated area of another’s choosing.

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