Personally Witnessing Medical Injustice

5 min read

This post was written by a friend of mine, Erik Pilgrim, and shared with his permission.

One detail that he omitted that may be relevant to some: The hospital system that he’s referring to is an overtly Christian one, where the HR department had explicitly asked me if I had a problem with there being a prayer before every meeting.

You tell me if the behavior Erik witnessed truly "conveyed God’s love in a caring environment".

I had a referral to see an orthopedist this past Tuesday (for my hip, because apparently, I’m officially old) at a facility in Middletown that I hadn’t been to previously. The location is owned by a large local health care provider (rhymes with ‘lettering’). My personal experience wasn’t truly negative (prescribed stretches and exercises), but in less than 20 minutes, I saw the experiences of two other care seekers firmly encapsulate the current state of our healthcare system in the supposed richest country in the world.

I arrived at the building and went to the suite of my specialist. There, the receptionist sent me back to the main entrance’s front desk to get checked in for a tech to take some X-rays. I signed on the check-in sheet, sat down in the small lobby, and waited to hear my name. While waiting, other patients were called up to register. In this small space, I got to overhear a man checked in for some tests and get asked to pay his co-pay of $288—at least $200 more than I’ve ever heard for a co-pay. By his tone, he was somewhat distraught and confused by the high dollar amount, and because he believed that he had already met his health deductible for the year. As he came to grips with his situation, the nurse did offer that he didn’t necessarily have to pay the full amount now. He must have paid enough because the nurse finished checking him in. The nurse also explained to him that he had not met his deductible before this testing, but that he could rest easier because after the day’s billing, it had been met for any future procedures. He hadn’t even gotten the test or any results/diagnosis, but he probably wasn’t able to think about his health as he walked away, wondering how to pay his balance.

That being sad enough, a few moments later I watched a 60-ish homeless man enter. He left his trash bag of possessions in a lobby chair and walked with obvious physical difficulty over to the emergency desk. He told the security guard he needed to see a social worker. His cautiously optimistic tone suggested he felt he had a real solution to his situation. The emergency nurse then came out and started asking him the standard questions. He told the nurse that he was ‘done’ and needed to see a social worker. He also explained that he had been turned away somewhere else (a shelter, I assumed) because it was full. The nurse told him that there weren’t any social workers on staff at this facility and that seeing a social worker isn’t considered an emergency. Undeterred, he paused for a few seconds, and then said that he was suicidal. From his tone, I don’t think he actually was, but I don’t blame him in the least for making the claim, even if it might be false. The somewhat jaded nurse didn’t seem concerned with his claim and her tone conveyed zero compassion for this man. She tried a few questions to trip him up, and then resorted to point blank asking, “Are you just saying that you’re suicidal, so we’ll take you back to the exam area?” The homeless man remained steadfast in his assertion for self-harm. Though frustrated, she did check him in and took him back to the exam area.

While this is happening, I look over at the opulent wall display in the lobby. It’s about 15 feet long and describes the bible’s creation mythos, complete with quotes from Genesis and Revelations for each day of that first week. Each day has a brightly lit blue translucent glass with large bronze panels. I have no idea of the cost, but I’ve seen it at other facilities from this health care provider. Maybe they get them at a bulk discount. Maybe that money could be better spent elsewhere.

I don’t have a happy ending for either of these humans. I got called back for my x-rays and then went on to my scheduled appointment. I wish I could say the man with the ridiculous co-pay got some real financial relief beyond an installment plan. Once it’s January 1, he gets to start paying toward that deductible all over again. I wish I could say that I saw the homeless man get the help he needed, both for the immediate problem and for some long-term solution. I hope he at least got some medical attention, but reality isn’t a network medical melodrama, so I have my doubts.

All of this together made me immensely sad. I knew on a certain level that this is how things go these days, but it’s sobering to have it happen so plainly right before me in such a short span of time. I could be insensitive and talk about how I’m fine and I’m just so lucky (read ‘blessed’) to not be in either of their situations. But that kind of thinking just perpetuates these problems. I shouldn’t be having a better medical experience simply because I can afford better insurance. I’m not special and those two people didn’t deserve their ‘treatment’.

All I could think was that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Somebody make it make sense.

Featured Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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