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Bush wants my mom to pay for his war

By Bev Hiestand

As a political activist and health-care worker, I am aware of the rapid decline in health-care delivery in this country. But it became much more personal in recent days as I was forced by circumstances to place my 84-year-old mom--a health-care worker her whole life, too--in an Adult Assisted Living facility.

It certainly felt like cruelty to another human being as I ripped my mother away from all those things that were her life and placed her in an institution in another city, 45 minutes from the countryside she loves so much, her friends and her family.

And why? Because we were told by that she could not stay in the hospital another day and the administrators could not find a place for her closer to home.

My mom is an elder who has only a Social Security check and small pension to live on. Based on rules established by Medicaid and followed by the commercial insurance companies, she could not be covered for her three-day hospitalization without personally shelling out as much as $2,000 a day.

The doctor had determined that her unbearable pain might be due to a spinal compression fracture resulting from a fall. This injury and pain is even more of a care crisis because she is unable to walk well or care for herself. She is nearly blind, has difficulty hearing and has many physical problems requiring medications and medical care.

Yet she did not meet the criteria to keep her in the hospital long enough for an appropriate place near her home and loved ones to be found.

After 12 hours of worry, anger and frustration dealing with this inhumane system at the hospital, my mother was forced to leave. It wasn't the fault of the health-care workers; they were all wonderful and caring. Their facial expressions were pained as they said to us: "Isn't this awful? What's happened to our health-care system in this county is a crime!"

They noted that this happens every day. In fact, the elderly woman sharing the hospital room with my mom was going through the same thing. She ended up in a town 45 minutes away from her home. Her daughter hopes she will be able to find a place for her closer to home in the not-too-distant future.

Cold, frightened and isolated

So at 7 p.m. my mom and I arrived at the new facility. We found ourselves sitting in a big, almost-empty room with one insufficient ceiling light, a lone bed and a dresser. The walls were totally bare and no one had had time to turn up the heat before she arrived. So it was cold.

She was devastated. I was too.

There was no phone in her room because we had no time to prepare. She was cut off from her family and all the people who were part of her life.

She was very frightened, afraid she would not have the assistance she needed for the most basic activities of daily life.

Just before I left for the evening, an African American patient-care aide stuck her head in the door and told Mom: "Don't be scared. I will be here all night and I am going to look in on you every two hours to make sure you are okay. I will wake you in the morning in time for breakfast and we will see that you get down there in your wheelchair."

She was very sweet to be so comforting to my mother--I know how overworked she is. I thought about how in spite of the endless oppression from racism and exploitation that people must face daily in this system they manage to resist the coldness that characterizes their oppressors.

I've lost a lot of work hours at the hospital where I am employed because I've been dealing with my mom's health crisis. As I now face the need to travel long distances several times a week after work to be with my mother and help her to deal with the many aspects of life that are a challenge for her, I wonder about all those who do not have cars or the means to travel these distances.

It reminds me of all the prisoners who have been incarcerated far away from their families. I can't help feeling angry that my mother and so many other elderly people are being housed in institutions in isolation, unable to make the contributions to this society that their experience, wisdom and spirit could offer.

Capitalism: war abroad, war at home

Why is there such a shortage of hospital beds for the elderly? During the last decade tens of thousands of hospital beds have been closed down as corporate health-care organizations and their political allies have determined that these beds are not profitable.

This has moved what used to be hospital care into people's homes, mainly performed by already overworked family members, some of them elders themselves.

While it is true that some of the care that used to be provided in hospitals could be provided in other settings, the fact is that there is a shortage of appropriate facilities. Too many people are being forced out of the hospital into situations that compromise not only the patients' safety and well-being but their families'.

Through our unions and progressive political movements we need to demand that there be no more closings of hospitals and layoffs of health-care workers. Open up more beds as a transition for those who are waiting to go into facilities near their homes. Allow all those who find home care too demanding to return to the hospital and get the care they deserve.

We have been told this is too expensive, that society cannot afford it. However, the Bush administration, answering to Big Oil and other capitalist conglomerates, is rushing into a war against the Iraqi people that, according to Wall Street Journal estimates, may cost at least $200 billion. This does not include the cost of a prolonged military occupation that one economist estimates could run as high as $1.9 trillion.

Who will pay for this war? Bush wants my mother, our families, co-workers and neighbors to pay. Most state budgets are already running on a deficit leading to cutbacks in not only health care but funding for schools, housing, drug rehabilitation and many other critical programs. Meanwhile, this surplus wealth we all created is funneled to the Pentagon and Wall Street.

Bush wants Iraqi families, workers and neighbors to pay, too. What must it be like for a daughter in Iraq to try to find care for an elderly mother when the entire infrastructure of the country has already been badly damaged by the previous war, the economy strangled by U.S.-led economic sanctions and the country facing a deadly rain of bombs in a full-scale Pentagon war? The U.S. capitalist class wants the Iraqi people to pay with their oil and the profits from conquest of the Middle East.

And what will happen when many of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who do return from war come back disabled or sick? One in every four soldiers in the first Gulf War reportedly has long-term and sometimes life-threatening illnesses. This will be even more strain on a health-care system that is already buckling under the weight of the burden of ever more profits.

That's why, even though I'm stretched for time traveling to help care for my mother and scrambling at my own hospital to hold on to my job, I'm working overtime trying to organize a regional upstate New York anti-war network.

But despite my political awareness about this "profit before human need society," I find myself at times feeling responsible for leaving my mom in these awful circumstances.

One of the hardest things about living under capitalism is that it isn't the ruling class members themselves who carry out the terrible crimes against people that this economic system mandates.

Capitalism is an economic machine that conducts its exploitation and oppression silently and often impersonally. This makes its victims feel powerless to stop it, and therefore responsible for the toll that it takes on them and their loved ones.

Because I cannot protect each person I love from the cruelty of life under capitalism, I continue to organize to sweep this unjust and unequal system into the dustbin of history and replace it with a rational economy based on planned production to meet human needs.

It's a future that I can actually picture and help fashion based on the brutal experience of living under capitalism.

Reprinted from the Dec. 12, 2002, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyrighted under a Creative Commons License.
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