Congress Forgets: Healthcare Impacts Real People, Real Lives

By Alan Vitello

My wife, Ann, is a pediatric physician assistant at a publicly funded community health center in Aurora, Colo.

She sees roughly 400 patients per month. That’s usually 20 to 25 patients a day. (Yes, you read that right.)

Alan Vitello is a writer and an award-winning cartoonist who lives in Colorado. Learn more about Alan…

Twenty to 25 children, poor children, immigrant children, refugee children, children with serious physical, psychological and emotional problems, foster children, homeless children, children from two-parent homes, children from single-parent homes, children who have been sexually abused, children who have been physically and mentally abused, children with fetal alcohol syndrome, autistic children, children whose mom or dad or mom and dad work three fast food jobs (each) to make ends meet, children who’ve gotten pregnant and don’t know why or how, children with sexually transmitted infections, newborns, toddlers, little boys, little girls, tweeners and teens, some children struggling with issues of gender and sexuality, sick kids, injured kids, children in for a well-baby visit and children in for a sports physical, children who speak English, children who speak only Spanish, children from Africa, and the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, and children from the good ol’ US of A…and on and on.

All day. Every day.

Think you could hack it? I’m pretty sure I couldn’t.

…and that’s to say nothing of the 12-hour days, and the up-late every night, sitting with the laptop, finishing patient charts, just to go to bed at midnight, to get up to do it again, tomorrow.

Like I said, think you could hack it? I’d like to see you try.

And guess what? She’s not alone. She has five very dedicated co-workers: pediatricians, fellow PAs, nurse practitioners who do the exact same thing, every day.

And that’s only the pediatric side of the house. The other side of the clinic sees adults.

The providers who see adults don’t see as many patients per month as the pediatric side does, but the problems they see can be exponentially more complex.

Complex because of age. Complex because of cultural issues. Because of language issues. Because of lack of insurance or lack of money. Complex because the patient is a refugee who has been in the United States a week and doesn’t know anything, like how to fill out a form in English or how to ride a bus to reach the clinic. Complex because poor people—because they may not have any insurance, or enough insurance, or because they may not have enough money—wait until a health problem becomes a health crisis before seeking help at the clinic. Complex because of domestic violence or substance abuse. Complex because of homelessness or transience. Complex because of joblessness. Complex because life is more complex when you are on the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder.

And this is only at Ann’s clinic.

The organization she works for runs or provides staff members to 20 clinics—from pediatrics and mental health to school-based clinics and family practice—all over the Denver metropolitan area. Twenty clinics providing basic healthcare to tens of thousands of people, every day, every week, every month, every year, year and year out.

That’s 126,700 individual patient medical visits in 2015 alone (to say nothing of mental health visits or pharmacy, wellness, substance abuse, or dental or school-based visits).

That’s 126,700 human beings depending on 535 people in Washington, D.C.—members of the U.S. Congress—to make a wise decision on health care that will have a profound and far-reaching impact on human lives, and the lives of their spouses and children and parents and…

My wife sees the REAL WORLD on her doorstep every, single day. Every day.

For Ann, and her incredibly dedicated and hard-working co-workers, “Healthcare” is not some wonky, abstract idea that people like Rep. Paul Ryan, speaker of the House, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, majority leader of the Senate, bat around to score political points.

It’s not about “winning.”

It’s not about “getting something done in the first 100 days,” just to say you did.

Nor about getting revenge on Barack Obama and his Democrat cohorts. Or about sticking it to Obama’s legacy.

It’s REAL. It’s living, breathing human beings. Real children. Real parents. Real circumstances. Real world. Reality.

When we stop talking about the “real” in healthcare we lose the thread. We lose the key that must drive the conversation.

Real people. That’s where it starts and stops.

Americans must demand members of congress answer these questions:

  • Which one, or ones, of Ann’s patients are you going to tell they can no longer afford care, or because of cuts to Medicaid, will have no prospect for care, at all?
  • Which ones are you going to decide are worthy enough, or lucky enough, to have the chance at life; their life, their real life?
  • Which ones would you tell that their chances have run out, because for you, “winning” is more important than “caring?”

With a straight face, I’d like to see members of congress tell them that “party” beats “compassion,” and “politics,” well, sorry, but that’s simply more important than common sense and common decency.
I mean really tell ’em, face-to-face. In person.

But, unfortunately, it’s likely not to happen until we make it happen. As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, many of our elected officials are avoiding meetings with concerned citizens; some have even ducked out of back doors when a town hall event got too tough with questions and comments.

Many of our elected officials have forgotten they have the power to impact real people’s real lives. Everyday in Ann’s exam rooms, and the dozens of other exam rooms, all over Denver, all over Colorado, all over the United States. Millions of real lives that don’t care about scoring political points.

Something to nosh on. Then contact your U.S. representative or senator to provide them your thoughts.

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