Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Federal Government Declares Public Health Emergency"

Did you see the headlines this weekend? We are in a declared public health emergency! In fact, this emergency is capturing the attention of our federal government, right up to the White House.

When I heard the news, as part of the "safety net" of providers who receive emergency notification from the public health system, I was struck by the importance of this notice... 20 people in the US have been affected, and ~85 Mexican citizens.

And, then, I got a bit angry. The other event, the real emergency, was the latest Washington State budget, which puts 10's of thousands of our neighbors at health risk. And, no one seems to even notice.

I have the privilege of working with a team of dedicated people, who have turned from other, usually more lucrative, career paths in order to serve the least in our community. That privilege is supported by our work seeing patients who are covered by the state Medicaid program and the federal Medicare program; these are patients who are nearly always turned away from traditional (read: "for profit") medical practices in our community. And, as part of the response to the budget crisis, not only are we (the state of Washington) planning to
  1. reduce the number of people covered by the state Medicaid program (and therefore, making them uninsured), we are also
  2. reducing the support for the "safety net" providers, including non-profit Community Health Centers, like mine.
(And, to be clear, where do you think those uninsured patients are going to go for care? To the local for-profit group practice, which expects a deposit of nearly $200 before an office visit? They will defer care until it becomes an emergency, or they will come to my practice, which remains "the last open door" for them for routine, chronic and preventive care.)
We are also reducing access to affordable health insurance for individuals, reducing support for the services of the elderly and disabled.
You can't turn on the radio or the TV without seeing information about the growing concern regarding the swine flu. (My favorite report is that Israel has renamed the illness, since swine are not kosher! Talk about political correctness! Oy Vey!) But, where's the concern, where's the outrage about the tens of thousands, in Washington State alone, of single moms, young families, the elderly, the disabled, who will go without needed health and social services in this "economic pandemic"? There's barely a mention of it on the local news, and little on the national perspective. (You can read the summary on the Washington State legislature website: )
Well, back to work... not only do we need to figure out how to see more patients with less resources, now we have to prepare to assist the community's response in preparation for the swine flu, err, I mean "Mexican flu" outbreak, should it come to our state...

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