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Everyone gets knocked off their feet

May 31, 2012

My friend never thought he would need it — until he did.

He discovered that need several years ago when his mother, a woman with limited resources, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Her illness progressed more quickly than anyone could have imagined, until suddenly they were faced with the reality that her decline required skilled nursing care — and no insurance to pay for it.

My friend was newly married, with a young family and attending school, and there were no family resources to pay for his mother’s care. They weren’t sure what to do until someone offered that Nashville maintained a care facility for folks in their situation: the Bordeaux Long-Term Care facility.

“It was a wonderful gift,” he later told me. “The care was wonderful and we could trust that Mom would spend her last days comfortable and clean with a staff that knew how to care for her. We had all sorts of negative images about the “poor hospital,” but it exceeded our expectation, and was there when we needed it.”

We never think we might need it — until we do.

Recently, in the wake of a proposed property tax increase for the city of Nashville, various city leaders have suggested that Nashville can no longer afford to operate a safety-net health-care system for the residents of Nashville. They mention the $43 million that is directed to the Metro Hospital Authority (wrongly attributing that total amount to Nashville General Hospital when, in fact, it is split between three facilities) and suggest that other hospitals or care facilities would willingly assume the $85 million bill for uncompensated care that the authority bears each year.

They are mistaken. Several years ago, a group of advocates from the faith community met with the leaders of the various health systems in Nashville to talk about the future of Nashville General and the Metro Hospital Authority. Again and again, they told us behind closed doors that they could not — and would not — bear the burden of serving as the safety net for the city.

It was clear that the closing of the hospital would lead to people going untreated for their diseases — including treatable heart disease, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Likewise, skilled-care facilities like Bordeaux are even more unlikely to take on indigent patients, meaning that the families of the weakest and frailest among us would have few options for the care of their family members. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that there are people who would die sooner than they might otherwise if we did not provide the care that the Metro Hospital Authority provides.

“Well that’s a problem for THOSE people,” I can hear some say. For those of us who have health insurance through our jobs or who are able to participate in the government-funded Medicare program, it’s easy to think that the safety net is only for THOSE people — the poor, those who are sometimes seen as lazy or a drain on the system. It certainly doesn’t affect folks like US, does it? And so making a blanket statement like “let’s cut the funding to the hospital authority” doesn’t seem that painful.

But it would have been painful to a friend of mine, a former pastor and author in the area who found himself between jobs with no health insurance, when he came down with severe abdominal pain from a severely inflamed gallbladder and 100-plus stones, which required emergency surgery. With nowhere left to turn he visited Nashville General, which provided the needed treatment in spite of the fact that he had no resources for repayment. They treated him with dignity and respect, and he is a healthy, productive member of society because the people of Nashville cared enough to offer help to those down on their luck.

My friend never thought that he would need Nashville General. Most of us never do. But it’s good to know that it’s there when we need it.

Cross posted at http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120530/OPINION03/305300078/Everyone-gets-knocked-off-their-feet?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|s

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