Grassroots Healthcare Reform

If we get a health reform bill, it may be thanks in part to a push from the ground up. That belief is leading to a variety of grassroots support endeavors.

At a hospital-sponsored town hall meeting on the issue this week in San Francisco attendees were invited to take the microphone to tell their stories. Probably a bad idea at any meeting, since such an invitation guarantees off-point rambles and rages and this one certainly proved the point — but there were enough horror stories to assure everyone that our current non-system is a train wreck.

A cardboard cut-out of President Obama stood at the back of the room (there was a lot of photo-op going on before things got started) and the promise was that videos of the stories would go straight to Washington to help speed passage of the hoped-for health reform bill.

Participants told of needed care that couldn’t be found, needed drugs that couldn’t be bought and the widespread suffering of the un- or under-insured. A panel of local experts presented aspects of the hoped-for national plan and spoke of San Francisco’s own moderately successful effort to provide health coverage for all.

Speakers were asked to keep their remarks to under three minutes, another dictum doomed to failure, and a few did. My own plea (one minute, forty seconds) was for inclusion of some guarantee/protection of individual choice at the end of life. It stemmed from working for many years (as I still do) with terminally ill adults who seek options including hastening their dying. It was tempered in deference to the hosts, since St. Francis is a member of Catholic Healthcare West and the opposition of the Catholic Church was largely responsible for defeat of a widely popular physician aid-in-dying bill that narrowly failed in California two years ago. And the likelihood of such a controversial issue getting into the massively complex bill we may or may not get is somewhere between slim and none, but what the heck. With Mr. Obama standing there, I couldn’t resist.

At similar gatherings around the country, I suspect the message and the messengers are much the same. Health reform is a national need that translates in millions of heartbreaking individual stories.

My personal favorite message came from panel member Catherine Dodd, PhD, RN, District Chief of Staff for Nancy Pelosi in her pre-Speaker days. Dodd explained the current three-fold status (two in the Senate and one in the House) of the healthcare bill and defended its  probable cost. Then she threw out one new number: 19.7. After everyone had let 19.7 sink in, she told us that is the number of years it has taken this country, every time a health reform bill has been floated, to bring it up again. “We can’t afford another 19.7 years,” she said. I think she’s right.

The Joys (and Angst) of Housing Choices

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What is it about the term “adult living” that seems so, well, one-foot-in-the-grave to me? Being surely one foot in the grave myself, if one chooses to look at actuarial tables which I do not, you’d think my opinionated mind might be pried slightly more open.

It’s a dilemma. Not whether one is polite and knowledgeable about adult living communities urban or suburban, but how to differentiate — and ultimately make choices among — the often bewildering assortment of housing communities and choices targeting everyone over 50 (and increasingly even below.)

I gave a talk at Rossmoor earlier today, a serene and bucolic adult living/retirement community about 25 miles and 40 degrees from San Francisco. This is no lie; it was 58 in the fog when I left home, 98 in the sun when I arrived. Rossmoor is full of recreational amenities: golf and tennis, choirs and bridge clubs and book groups. You cannot live there unless you are (or are formally attached to someone who is) 55 or older, and if you’re 18 or under you can’t hang around for more than 3 weeks. Rossmoor has its own mildly bewildering housing choices: congregate living, condos, co-ops and big houses on lush lots. It is ranked among the top such senior adult communities in the country and they are everywhere.

Add to these the growing varieties of aging-in-place groups (think Beacon Hill Village in Boston) and the truly bewildering assortment of assisted living facilities. The latter include simple rentals, detached cottages and elegant high rises; you can pay fixed or varying fees, or you can turn over your total estate (if it’s a large one) in return for a promise that you’ll be cared for in style throughout whatever infirmity or affliction arises and unto the grave.

Our friend Berta, widowed not many years ago, made the (possible) mistake of mentioning to her children that the responsibilities of maintaining her tidy, comfortable home were becoming onerous at times. This set off a frenzy of activity among her very active progeny, 3/4 of whom live in far-flung states. In addition to tackling the task of clearing out (“I had to grab a few things I wanted that were about to get thrown away…”) they came up with an assortment of possibilities for the mother whose comfort and well being they value above all else: condos and co-ops and a variety of retirement homes near their own homes, most at price tags more than daunting to someone who grew up in the Depression. Berta hopes to stay put. Most of us do, many of us can’t, and there’s the rub.

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