February 24, 2009

A client story: unemployed and without insurance

So our country’s decades-old health care problem has become a fully-fledged crisis. In the last few years, demand has been increasing for all of our programs, but the escalation in number of visits to our medical center is by far the most intense: a growth of about 20% annually, for the last three or so years.

Of course, the economic downturn makes this situation much worse. Recent figures put out by the Center for American Progress estimate that about 14,000 people are losing their health insurance every day. It’s a terrifying number. And it's the kind of number that doesn't even do a good job of conveying the reality of the situation. So let's share a story from our medical clinic last week.

Mrs. A recently came in to Bread for the City’s medical clinic for the first time. She’d heard about us from a church sister, who encouraged her to check it out. Mrs. A was running out of options; she’s been unemployed for more than a year. She has three grown children, but says “they’ve got families of their own that they’re struggling to bring up.”

Here’s her story:

I worked all my life, since I was 16. Most of my jobs I had for 10 years. I worked at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the American Psychiatric Association. With my skills, I was always able to find a new job within 2 weeks of leaving the old one.

I worked for Fannie Mae for 7 years. They offered me early retirement on September 28, 2007. They paid us a settlement of $25k, and that’s what I’ve been living off of ever since, paying rent and food and my bills, while I look for work every single day. (I’ve got my resume and a flash drive in my purse right now, just in case anything comes up.) I figured I’d find work in weeks, but I haven’t ever seen anything like this. I had insurance through the end of December of 2008. I had to leave my doctor then, and haven’t had medical attention since.

When she finally made it to our clinic, she had $33 to her name.

Mrs. A is scared for the future. At least her trip to Bread for the City gave her some modest (and plainly visible) measure of comfort.

“I thought I’d be warehoused through, you know given pills and shown the door. But I’ve already received real care. They asked me about how I’m living, and what I’m eating, and already they gave me some good advice plus some pills that I needed badly. It was remarkable, and such a relief. And I didn’t know I could get food here – the food will help a lot, it’s fresh and healthy which is important because of my diet.”

Here at Bread for the City, we’re only able to take new patients like Mrs. A at a rate of two or three a day. Dozens more get turned away.

This is the main reason we’re starting our expansion: so that we can conduct more client visits (by almost three times the amount!).

But even our expansion will only meet a fraction of the need. The country needs dramatic leadership from the federal government to galvanize real progress toward a health care infrastructure that will ensure that people like Mrs. A don’t fall through the cracks. Fortunately, it looks like this is President Obama’s very next major task.

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