Friday, December 9, 2011

It's the Inequality Stupid!

After breaking down the concessions area after the final weekend of children's theater I make my way home through Skid Row. I've visited the Flower Market for decades and seen lines in front of the Midnight Mission, people crashed in doorways and I've been hit up for change. The desperate and the destitute have congregated here for as long as I can remember but now the visage is a dystopian post apocalypse tableau, as block after block are lined with tents and the streets teem with men and women who have nowhere else to go.

The missions can only accommodate a small percentage of the needy and many who live on the street are so far gone psychiatrically that it's unsafe to house them in an overcrowded dormitory. Some of the homeless end up in jail and may even receive a psychological evaluation but even if a mental disorder is identified there are virtually no services available. Further cuts to California mental health programs are announced this week. 587 million has been slashed over the last few years from a program that was already tragically inadequate. It is estimated that 8% of the population suffer from some form of mental illness but the medieval notion that psychological disorders are rooted in a lack of character seems to persist and treatment has always been a low priority.

I'd had the impression that most of L.A.'s homeless had gravitated to Occupy L.A. where there was free food and medical care but driving down Central Avenue, there is an ocean so vast it couldn't possibly be contained on the steps of the City Hall. I presume that most of the street people who found refuge at Occupy L.A. did make their way back to Skid Row before police raids of the encampment.

Patrick Meighan, a writer for Family Guy describes his arrest at Occupy L.A. in a disturbing piece He is able to make bail but many of the other arrestees are still in jail. The bail is set at $5000 for those arrested at Occupy. Bail in cases of violent crime and serious felony is often much lower. Meighan describes watching from behind the cyclone fence that was erected at City Hall the tents and other possessions of the occupiers being tossed by hazmat clad workers into dump trucks. The windstorm whips through Los Angeles the night after the police action. Clothing, tents and medical supplies are destined for a landfill while thousands, exposed on dirty downtown streets, brave the wicked Santa Anas.

Meighan also points out that while peaceful protestors at Occupy L.A. are treated more harshly than hardcore felons, the former CEO of Citigroup, Charles Prince, maintains a lifestyle worthy of his regal moniker. In reference to the firm's dangerously leveraged lending practices, Prince said, “When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you've to get up and dance. We're still dancing.” Under Prince's stewardship the market value of Citigroup declined by $64 billion. Instead of an lengthy incarceration Prince receives $68 million from stock and options, an exit bonus of $12.5 million, a $1.7 million pension, and an office, car and driver for five years.

The streets abound with crackheads and folks who have gone off their meds but the ranks have swollen as more and more of the working class lose jobs, homes and health coverage. The kick in the balls to the middle class is a direct result of the callous manipulation of the world's finances by the big banks and instead of exacting penalties from the major players, we set bail at $5000 for those who have the temerity to call the bankers out.

I cannot say that our finances have flourished in the last few years but we are blessed with work, a home and health insurance. Our policy, like most, has scant provisions for mental health and only slightly better for physical health. I receive frequent calls from a collection agency all year when our insurer fails to pay a provider for a clearly covered expense. This is resolved after I write over a dozen letters and finally enlist the help of the State Insurance Commissioner but I imagine that many don't clearly understand their coverage or are cowed and frightened by collection agency calls and simply capitulate.

The OB who delivered both of my kids has an office in Beverly Hills. She does not accept insurance and my carrier only reimburses me for a small portion of her fees but she has always charged me fairly and reasonably. There is usually a bit of a wait but I never feel rushed as I often do when seeing other physicians who are preferred providers and have to squeeze in a ton of patients. The examination gowns are made of flimsy pink paper but while the décor is not to my taste, efforts have been made to make it as comfortable and homey as a room with a focal point of metal stirrups can be. Due to my family history my doctor prescribes a genetic test. She advises me to pay cash for the test and not to use my real name. She feels that what's left of a nationalized heathcare plan is sure to go by the wayside and it's best to have no record of a pre-exisiting condition.

I have a few hours between medical assignations in Beverly Hills and being in weight loss mode I take lunch at the macrobiotic joint M Chaya. If I lie on my bed and flail a bit I can triumph over pair of size 12 jeans and it is worth the impossibility of sitting or breathing. I will note here that my current weight is approximately 150 lbs lower than my highest and yet, I have never felt as fat and cumbersome in my life as I do in Beverly Hills at M Chaya. I rattle the table of two regulars attempting to finesse myself into the tiny booth. I am not only ginormous, I am wearing a red sweater in room full of black clad, Alexander McQueen boot wearing, health food eaters. The women at the next table note my reading of Jeffrey Eugenides “The Marriage Plot” and say they'd read it in their book club and really liked it. The book parodies post modern criticism and quotes Derrida and Barthes extensively and it seems impossible to me that anyone wearing size 0 skin tight Lycra leggings and toting a Birkin handbag around Beverly Hills could possibly have really liked it. Nevertheless, they do not expound and continue their conversation about a new diet. “I eat three ounces of protein in the morning and then only fruit and vegetables the rest of the day, but I still haven't lost any weight.”

My appointment at the Beverly Hills Women's Center follows my spartan lunch. I made a big fuss about the mammography place I was sent to in Burbank being a pit and have been sent now “over the hill.” This place makes the crappy place in Burbank look like the most exclusive Baden-Baden spa. I call a few days before my appointment to confirm that my primary physician has submitted a referral and after endless muzak and three different annoyed workers I am assured that he has. The waiting room has the ambiance of a Greyhound depot except for a number of the Georgia O'Keefe prints which must be included free with the purchase of specula or mammography equipment. I am called to the desk three times and grilled about the referral from my physician and I indicate that I have confirmed its arrival. “Oh yeah. Go sit back down.” A woman in a wheelchair is parked in the middle of the room. She stares into space and chews. Old women hobble down the hall with walkers and a young woman directs, in Spanish, three small children to sit quietly. An obese bleached blonde argues in Russian with her diminutive husband, conspicuously the only man in the room. Westside matrons, in their discomfiture at being marooned among the proletariat glower and pester the girls at the desk about the long wait.

Women are called in groups of two or three and shown to changing rooms with doors that have taken so much abuse they don't close fully and issued pink ( apparently the AMA mandated color for all accessories pertinent to women's healthcare) smocks. The lockers have no locks and we are commanded to carry our bras, blouses and other belongs while we wait our turn, standing in a hall, for a mammographer. I've had a variety of laboratory tests over the years and it's always like being on the peoplemover but the mammography clinic is the most degrading. The technician is obstreperous and refuses to refer me for the ultrasound that my physician prescribes. I hover near over-the-top in my campaign make them provide the services for which I've been referred. I am told the ultrasound technician has gone home for the day and I ratchet up the assertiveness to a point that in retrospect I feel a bit sheepish about. Somehow a technician and even a radiologist materialize. What happens to patients who don't understand what tests have been ordered or lack language skills or the nerve to speak up?

Near the clinic is a trendy bakery filled with fashionable tweens who scarf down $7 red velvet or carrot mascarpone cupcakes. It is dark and the crosstown streets are jammed. I make my way down 3rd and notice Short Order, the new restaurant that serves $18 hamburgers that just opened next to the Dupar's at the Farmer's Market. I reach Hancock Park and notice that the dozens of David statues that once graced the front yard of a stark white 60s house have been removed. The owners of the nearby mansions must be relieved. Past Western there are Hispanic shops and salons, brightly painted and glowing eerie with fluorescent light. Women, who probably feed big families each day on less then the price of a Beverly Hills cupcake, wait in line for tortillas. A mile or so east thousands of homeless people huddle in tents. The steps of City Hall are empty now but many of the 99% trudge on hoping, if they still have the wherewithal to hope, that the Occupy Movement is a catalyst for change.


FionnchĂș said...

Sorry to hear of your grueling and degrading predicament. I hope it's not repeated. It's intriguing that the press was full of coverage yesterday of a woman who recanted on her opposition to the supposedly reformed government healthplan once she needed it, and today's LAT is full of letters "In defense of Obamacare" about how the under- or uninsured with previous conditions need to sign on and get the benefits--this spirit appears at odds with the OB-GYN.

I shared that same Meighan piece earlier today with a writer who's at Occupy back East, and this one may be of interest too, as it tells of the clever LAPD tactics deployed to close down OLA. Meighan updated his piece by the way today to add a postscript which emphasizes his contrast between his treatment and that of Wall Street's pampered and aptly named Charles Prince of Citigroup.

Let's hope it brightens on both the health and happiness fronts as this year eases into next. xxx me

My own Damn Blog said...

Your medical experiences are truly grim. Such was one of the many motivators for our move to the Northern hinterlands. And I must say that even though I had to recently endure a pretty heinous surgery, our facilities and service have been unbelievably pleasant. I'm still part of the 99%, don't think I'm getting all uppity just cause our tit squishing stuff is nicer.