Reflections on Care Givers


by kwesie marshall

             Representatives of City of Cleveland’s Metro Health System and concerned employees ex-employees, neighborhoods, patients, former patients, politicians (lots of Politicians), advocates of all kind congregated at Trinity United Church of Christ on Scranton Road to air their concerns about the cut-backs in staff and service that the system found necessary to implement.  The church has seen many such meetings.  Throughout the gathering music crept up from the basement as though a reminder of past gatherings, and as an apt accompaniment to the evening’s proceedings.

             It is a season of “save our hospital” meetings.  Locally, a season too late for Mt. Sinai on E. 105th, but time enough to rescue another of its facilities, and to save St. Michael’s.  Cleveland and much of the nation are challenging the health care industry.  In urban centers like Cleveland and countless rural communities across our nation, U.S. citizens are being abandoned by these institutions of care that they trusted.  The poor, the trapped, the vulnerable, the forgotten have been tossed on the trash heap of broken political promises.  There is no Hill-Burton health-care safety net any longer to protect those unable to pay for medical services.  In an unofficial survey shared with the assembled crown, one inquiry showed that of those surveyed more than one in four (+25%) had to choose between basic necessities and health care:  Do I fill my prescription or pay my rent” – or, “buy food – or, “pay utilities”?  These concerns in the richest democratic county on the planet.  What happened?

             “Caregiver” used to mean one who cared enough to give where there was a need.  The only qualification was that one had t have to be held to the promise.  A promise made; a promise kept.  Somewhere along the way some meaning has been lost.  Somewhere along the way some meaning has been lost.  Somewhere along the way the definitions of “care” and of “ giving” have undergone metamorphoses.

             Much like “free speech” in a political campaign where not only does it cost you to voice your opinion: it costs you more because “free market” says that you need it more.  The greater need the greater the cost.  Supply and demand.  It makes perfect sense.  And, therein lies the rub!   There should be a divorce.  The promise keepers of basic needs and the marketers of our conditioned wants should go their separate ways. It’s time for a change.

             Hospitals are – or, should be – in the vanguard of basic necessities – a national trust.  As United States’ citizens we are taught, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are fundamental tenets of our way of life.  As principled people we are guided to accept some version of “faith, hope and charity,” where the greatest of the three is charity (the giving heart).  What happened?

             What happened is as old as predictable as the opening line of a fable; “once upon a time.” or, the fall of the next foot in the march of retributive fate.  Greed stepped in.  Greed stepped in and “care” went from being basic to being marginal.  Greed stepped in and “giving” went from an implied promise to a budget priority.

             Oddly enough the one politician missing from the Cleveland Metro Health meeting was Congressman Dennis Kucinich, perhaps the one congressman leading a charge for responsible solution to this dilemma facing the have-a-lots and the have-nots.  It was the congressman, who, under another occasion; advised The Homeless Grapevine to continue to tell the story of those who were being written out of the vary drama of their lives.

            It is a bit naïve to believe that a nation so convinced for so long that the economic benefits of slavery outweighed the “peculiar institution’s” human misery, would act on its own to affirm guaranteed basic health care for all citizens over financial gain for the new privileged few?  Maybe, the abiding question is not, “What happened?” but, “What has to Happen?” I wonder.

   Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 42 May-June 2000