Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Health Care

Warning: A Dark Piece

Body Bag demonstration outside Trump International Hotel in Northwest D.C
Body Bag demonstration outside Trump International Hotel in Northwest D.C
Credit: Yilmaz Akin / Provided by Subminimal

Warning: this is a dark piece in a dark time.

As I think about what to write this morning, I recognize the need to express the shame, horror and fear of this moment. Almost 100,000 people dead from COVID-19. Millions of people have no way to pay for food or rent. Millions of elders are at risk of death or homelessness. Yet, we cling to the shreds of a dying democracy and a fantasy called “getting back to normal.”

The shame is that we as a nation seem oblivious to the tragedy of so many unnecessary deaths in our midst. Part of struggling to stay sane in this season means trying to maintain some sense of normal life for ourselves and our loved ones. I quote my sister often these days: “You have one job – get through the pandemic!”

Our efforts to maintain stability in the midst of obvious chaos make it appear that we are unaffected by the massive death toll. Yet, we are all affected in some way. Truly, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

It may be a relative or friend that you know has COVID-19. You may have a loved one who died from COVID-19 or a loved one you fear may die from COVID-19. We are all affected. But to the outside world, it looks like we are insistent on “getting back to normal.” It seems like we are willing to die for “business as usual.” It is only a facade created to make us all feel better while making us all look worse than we are.

Our National Hypocrisy

The New Jersey Veterans Home in Paramus on Wednesday, April 8, 2020
New Jersey Veterans Home, 4/8/20
Credit: Michael Karas / NorthJersey.com / USA Today Networks

The Memorial Day holiday highlights the hypocrisy of the moment. This is a holiday to commemorate those who died while serving in the military. Politicians preen themselves to acknowledge military service on this day. We are all taught to say “thank you” in the presence of veterans. Yet, last week, we learned that a COVID-19 experiment killed at least 26 veterans receiving care at VA medical centers. Others required ventilators to survive at higher rates than veterans who were not administered the death drug. These veterans died too, at the hands of the military.

Ironically, the experimental treatment imposed on these veterans by our government reminds us of the tragedy of the Tuskegee experiment. From 1940 to 1972, a government study left 399 Black men with untreated syphilis. The government did not tell the men they were being used as guinea pigs. Even when doctors recognized penicillin was an effective treatment in 1945, the “study” continued for another 27 years.

We Are All Expendable

What COVID-19 exposes in America is that we are all expendable. That includes veterans in hospitals, in prisons and without homes. At least 8-10% of those imprisoned in this country are military veterans. One 2012 study found the mortality risk for veterans released from prison is 12 times higher than the general population. No doubt the mortality rates for all returning citizens in the post-COVID-19 season will skyrocket. There is no protection from COVID-19 in prison. As clergy woman Melissa Cedillo notes, “The American prison system today is a new iteration of this long-standing white supremacist goal —  to control and dehumanize people of color, the impoverished, the marginalized.

Outside of prison, COVID-19 is killing Black people at three times the rate of white people. And as Dr. Fauci notes, this is not “news” and there is nothing we can do about it in this moment.

In fact, we are all expendable: veterans, nurses, health care workers, domestic workers, gig workers, low-wage workers, small business owners, homeless people, incarcerated people, Black people, Latinos and Native Americans, all of us. Indeed, in January 2019, according to Forbes magazine, 78% of all American workers were living “paycheck-to-paycheck.” That was last year, before the pandemic hit us. Now, for at least 40 million people, there is no paycheck. No health insurance. No savings, only student loans, enormous medical bills or credit card debt.

A Dark Piece

I warned you – this is a dark piece. This is bearing witness to the collapse of an economic system coming apart at the seams. A democracy that has succumbed to celebrity fascism. A failing education system erected on inequity based on race and social status. Suddenly, the rest of the world considers America “a shithole country.” As writer Marley K. points out:

“America is the rich nation where people can starve to death, children can sleep in cars and no one is bothered by it, where citizens get sick and can’t afford to get well, and where people who work all their lives can’t afford to grow old and die in peace.”

 U.S. Postal Service worker in Los Angeles, California
 U.S. Postal Service worker in Los Angeles, California
Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

We face the closure of the Post office, a national institution since 1775 and a place of employment for Black people since the end of slavery. According to writer umair haque, we have actually become “too poor” to save ourselves. And we are still only at the beginning of the pandemic. With states rushing to “re-open” the economy, the death toll will only rise. We are simply not seeing the body bags that were widely displayed on television during the Vietnam War. But people are in fact dying: 100,000 people so far to be precise.

Who Will Make The Change?

We already have the answers. We already know what must be done. It starts with Medicare for All. We must have a guaranteed basic income for all. We must have a Green New Deal. It is up to us to destroy the “inherently unequal” school system that Thurgood Marshall challenged and start over. We must end mass incarceration and dismantle our criminal injustice system. This pandemic must result in a fundamental re-ordering of our priorities and how we pay for them. The question is who among us will be alive to make it happen.

Like I said: “You have one job – get through the pandemic!”

I Feel Like Going On

“Though trials may come on every hand, I feel like going on.” Marvin Winans

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. with compatriots at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. with compatriots at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. August 28, 1963. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

This was a rough week. It started on Saturday, April 4th as I remember the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. That awful night in Memphis traumatized the entire country. It was such a game-changer for me personally. Yet, here we are, some 52 years later and barely a mention of the event that shook America to its core. It seems that the pandemic “trumps” everything.

Fast forward to April 8, 2020 – a day that will live in infamy for me and so many others. The day that Bernie Sanders “suspended” his campaign for the U.S. Presidency.

The end of Bernie Sanders’ campaign marks a sobering reality. The American economy is in shambles. The federal government is under the control of the tangerine reincarnation of Hitler and the federal bench is infested with far-right-wing fanatics appointed for life. For me, the inescapable reality is that the “beloved community” that Dr. King preached about will not come to pass in my lifetime.

It is a sobering thought. Not in my lifetime.

Dr. King’s words from his final sermon on April 3, 1968 rang in my ears all day on April 8, 2020:

“I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”

Not in my lifetime.

Biden Is Not Bernie

Even if Joe Biden can hold it together until the election (not a certainty), he seems almost certain to wither under Heir Trump’s blistering attacks. Biden has already promised to veto Medicare for All. He makes this pledge at a time when Black people are dying at three times the rate from COVID-19 than other races. The racial disparities that have always been a matter of life or death for Black folks will continue to flourish in a Biden presidency.

For me, the urgency of a Bernie Sanders presidency was exactly the urgency to address the health gap, the wealth gap, and the justice gap that is the reality for far too many Americans and particularly Black people. These are not issues that Joe Biden has pledged to address. Nor does he even appear capable of addressing.

It is well known that Black women in America are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women. That well-known fact is perfectly ok in Trump’s America and it will continue to be so in Biden’s America.

On the day I heard the bad Bernie news, I was already enraged by reports that Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at catastrophic rates compared to our percentage of the population and other races. In March 1966, at the convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) in Chicago, Dr. King noted that “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.”

Dr. King would be devastated by what is going on in Chicago today, and reflected across this country. Death is the most “brutal consequence” of racialized injustice.

Painful Brutal Consequence

Racial differences in health care, particularly the treatment of cancer, is very personal to me.

In 2012, my Dad died at Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati Ohio from small cell lung cancer. The treatment and care he received at Jewish Hospital was painfully substandard.

We got the lung cancer diagnosis on a Friday and he died four (4) days later on Tuesday. He was never transferred or treated in the oncology unit. They said they did not have enough beds. The IV medication was applied sparingly during the last four days of his life. We were not given proper instructions on how to use the respirator and hence, we did not use it while he desperately struggled to breathe the entire last weekend of his life. In the minutes before his heart stopped, they couldn’t get the dialysis machine to work. In the meantime, the deadly toxins stimulated by the chemotherapy treatment they gave him exploded in his blood.

As his kidneys failed and the cancer took his life away, I watched helplessly as the nurse struggled (unsuccessfully) to make the dialysis machine work. My father was not a priority that day and he died.

“I Feel Like Going On”

I admit, after fighting for civil rights for more than 50 years, I’m tired. I’m frustrated by the America that writes a bad stimulus check to Black folks over and over again. I’m angered by politicians that make false promises to get our votes and then runnnn back to the comfortable lily white world where they live. I am outraged by those who turn a blind eye to poverty, homelessness and injustice.

Still, I feel like going on. I know that this pandemic will end. I don’t know when it will end. Don’t know how. We know that when America gets a cold, Black folks get pneumonia. But this too shall pass. I know that. And today, I feel like going on.

You see, the history of Black people in America has given us tenacity, resilience, courage in the darkest hour, faith in God and hope for tomorrow. We are the survivors of the Middle Passage. My people were “built for slavery and killt for bravery.” And we’re still here.

Even knowing that the beloved community will not likely come to pass in my lifetime. I won’t get there with you. But I feel like going on.

Bishop Marvin Winans Sings “I Feel Like Going On”

A Luta Continua.

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