I was watching 60 Minutes on CBS earlier this week. The segment was about the closing of the outpatient clinic for chemotherapy at the University Medical Center (UMC) in Las Vegas. UMC is a Clark County public hospital, the only hospital available to poor people without health insurance. The current economic crisis makes the public hospital more needed than ever.
UMC, like schools, had to cut its services to patients because of the lack of tax revenues.
âRecently thousands of letters went out across Las Vegas telling cancer patients that the only public hospital in the state was closing its outpatient clinic for chemotherapy.â [60 Minutes]
It is certain that residents of Nye County who travel to and from Las Vegas for their chemotherapy were suddenly cut off from treatment at UMC.
Helen Sharp was one of those outpatients. Watch the video of her and othersâ comments. They are people, just like you and me, and but for the grace of God any one of us could find ourselves in their position. Helen is age 63, and has been fighting lymphoma.
"I don’t want to die. I shouldn’t have to die. This is a county hospital. This is for people that, like me, many people have lost their insurance, have not any other resources. I mean I was a responsible person. I bought my house. I put money away. I raised my two children. And now I have nothing. You know my house isn’t worth anything. I have no money. And I said ‘What do I do, but what do all these other people do after me?’ ‘And they said we don’t know,’" Sharp told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.
Last year, Helen received charity care at the University Medical Center. She was one of 2,000 patients who got the letter. She said the reading of the letter meant âA death sentence.â
UMC is the safety net for two million people. It is a teaching hospital, the only fully equipped trauma center, the only burn unit, the only transplant unit, and the primary source of charity care in a city that has fallen on the hardest times it has ever seen.
"Obviously, our gaming and tourism is tanking. The construction industry has been decimated. And all of those things cause big, gaping holes in the state budget. The hardest-hit area for us was the Medicaid budget," Kathy Silver, the hospital’s CEO, explained. The UMC budget was cut by $72 million.
Silver said, "We no longer provide prenatal services. We closed the outpatient oncology program. We cancelled a contract for outpatient dialysis. We closed the dedicated high risk obstetrical unit that we had. And we stopped doing outpatient mammography."
60 Minutes indicated âThere are two medical assistance programs for the very poor, like the folks who line up at a Las Vegas building before dawn to apply for state services: there’s Medicaid and Clark County medical assistance.â
"If you’re poor enough you’re fine because those patients are being taken care of," Silver said. "If you’re rich enough you’re obviously fine. So who is falling through the cracks here?" Scott Pelley, of CBS, asked. âPatients who donât qualify for a social services type of program,â Silver answered.
"What we’re talking about here are people who are making $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year and have lost their jobs and therefore lost their insurance?" Pelley asked. That would be the middle class, both Pelley and Silver confirmed.
Those who have been cut off from medical treatment at UMC cannot find medical care from the health insurance industry. Roy Scales, one of the victims of the UMC problem, when asked what he could do if he could not find a doctor to take care of him simply responded, âDie peacefully.â
Depressing state of affairs. Here we are, presumably the wealthiest nation on the face of the earth, yet thousands, perhaps millions of us, are dying because we cannot afford to provide medical care.
I canât help thinking about all the money wasted by the United States in wars we canât afford; Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya and others potentially on the list. In Nevada, where the tax burden is not equitably spread among taxpayers. Locally, in Nye County, where spending thousands of dollars for such things as theme parks and the like is being contemplated.
Somehow we just donât seem to have our priorities straight. And there appears to be no end in sight.