Health Care

NOTIONS: Political promises no panacea for health care

May 12, 2008

A while back, I had lunch with my friend John. As is our wont, we talked about politics, religion, our families, joys, frustrations.

When the subject turned to work, John told me he's trying a new approach to fund raising and "friend-raising" for his small not-for-profit cancer agency. He's cutting out the big, time-consuming special event and simply inviting people in for a one-hour introduction to medically under-served cancer patients and how his organization helps.

I told him I'd like to attend one of those.

About the same time, my friend Susan called. She wanted to know if I'd serve on a task force.

She said her big, not-for-profit cancer agency wants to build a facility in Indianapolis. It would provide short-term housing for patients who need potentially life-saving treatment here, but who have no place to stay in our community and no means to pay for a hotel room. She said the task force would help decide whether donors in our community would help fund such a facility.

I agreed to serve.

A few weeks later, my friend Jim called. He said he's on the board of a local organization that provides health care for some of the poorest members of our community. He asked if I'd be his guest at a luncheon so I could learn about a proposed new health clinic the organization wants to establish on the south side.

I said yes.

On the appointed day, I drove southwest from downtown, past some multimillion-dollar pharmaceutical plants, to an old Masonic lodge.

Inside, a few dozen guests, all clad in fancy business clothes, ate boxed lunches and talked about the upcoming election.

When we finished breaking bread, we heard a few speeches and watched a DVD. We learned about people in our community who can't afford health care and how our hosts are trying to help. The presenters said they want to finish outfitting the old Masonic lodge as a clinic, but they need to raise lots of money to do so.

Then we climbed aboard shuttle buses and went to see the two existing facilities this new clinic would replace.

When we arrived at each one, we walked through tiny, run-down buildings crowded with patients receiving and seeking care.

We saw a laboratory crammed into a former break room.

We saw physicians' offices no bigger than phone booths.

We saw exam rooms for young children with faded paint and aging equipment.

And all along the way, we met dedicated doctors, nurses and other staff members doing their best to compensate for the surroundings and keep up with the growing demand for their low- and no-cost services.

I went back to the Masonic lodge, filled out the form, and agreed to help.

For a few weeks between the Pennsylvania and Indiana presidential primaries, Indianapolis was the center of the political universe.

During that time, we heard a lot about Sen. Barack Obama's former pastor. We heard even more about a proposed gas-tax holiday. We were barraged with some $10 million worth of TV ads for (and against) the presidential candidates, most of them debating whether the gas-tax holiday was a good idea or a pandering gimmick.

But other than a few lines in a few stump speeches and TV interviews, we didn't hear much about people who have to fight cancer and poverty at the same time.

We didn't hear much about people who can't afford an overnight room in the city where physicians and researchers might be able to save their lives.

We didn't hear much about the need for decent health care facilities to treat indigent women who need prenatal care; or needy kids who need an ear infection examined; or low-income seniors who need help with arthritis.

One danger with presidential campaigns is the illusion they create-the illusion that this candidate's promise or that candidate's panacea will remarkably pass Congress pronto and intact, get funded without question, be implemented without delay, and magically cure whatever ails us.

Bunk.

It's not going to happen with something as superficial as a gas-tax holiday-especially in the few weeks before Memorial Day as dangled before us last week.

And it's certainly not going to happen with something as complex as national health care reform.

And since we the people can't figure out health care of the people, by the people and for the people, we're stuck struggling to find ways for the few to voluntarily help the many.

And so, my friends make their presentations, form their task forces and host their luncheons.

And we, their volunteers, sit in brainstorming meetings, trying to guess who among us might be an angel for this cause or that.

And we who sometimes donate (or wish we could), read letter after solicitation letter, hear appeal after appeal for cause after cause-knowing they're all worthy; regretting that we can't save them all.



Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.
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