In what has to be the best – and last – argument for universal health care, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that a St. Louis hospital (St. Mary’s Health Center) recently kicked out an uninsured ER patient; then charged her with trespassing after she refused to leave. The St. Louis Police Department added “resisting arrest” to the charges.
Fifteen minutes after being placed in a jail cell, Anna Brown died of complications from her original complaint – sore ankle. How, you may wonder, can a simple sore (not even broken) ankle cause death? The ER personnel could not (and did not try very hard to) find anything wrong with her. An autopsy, however, pinpointed deep vein thrombosis (DVT) as the cause of death. DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in the veins of an injured (bruised or badly contused) area, usually the ankles or legs. One or more blood clots break off from the main clot or vessel wall and travel via the bloodstream to the brain, lungs or heart, causing a painful, horrific death.
Her final moments of life may be seen in this St. Louis Post-Dispatch-provided video. I warn you: the video is graphic and heart-rending. The police are seen nonchalantly, uncaringly placing Brown on the cement floor of a jail cell. There is a “bed” in the cell but no effort is made to place her upon it. They close the door and walk away, leaving her completely alone and writhing in pain. Brown may be clearly heard and seen crying, moaning, whimpering – dying.
Amazingly, a paramedic and a policeman enter the cell after Brown’s body has been removed; and…are you ready…search the cell for any drugs Brown may have hidden or discarded (while she lay dying).
Now, Brown’s lifeless body was returned to the same hospital (St. Mary’s Health Center) which had evicted her. Attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful.
In a self-serving attempt to minimize the damage (damages?) and its probable liability (Brown’s family has retained counsel), St. Mary’s issued the following statement. It reads in pertinent part:
“Unfortunately, even with appropriate testing using sophisticated technology, blood clots can still be undetected in a small number of cases. The sad reality is that emergency departments across the country are often a place of last resort for many people in our society who suffer from complex social problems that become medical issues when they are not addressed. It is unfortunate that it takes a tragic event like this to call attention to a crisis in our midst.”
Notice that there is no mention of this poor woman’s lack of insurance or inability to pay. Not a word about her eviction from their premises. St. Mary’s “statement” fails to mention that it was they who had accused Anna Brown of trespassing against their very private hospital property, and demanded her arrest and jailing. St. Mary's did acknowledge that Ms. Brown's situation was regretable and, of coure, "unfortunate." Still, athough so very unfortunate, a few of "these 'unfortunate' people"..."unfortunately" slip through the cracks. From St. Mary's vantage point, then, Ms. Brown is merely a victim of bad fortune.
Anna Brown’s sore ankle was just one of a whole litany of “issues” and problems she has suffered her whole life. (She was 29-years-old). She recently lost her home due to a tornado. The state had already taken her two children from her when it discovered that she was trying to heat the home using open flames. (All utilities had been cut off). She lost her fast food restaurant job. And had been turned away by several homeless “shelters” in St. Louis. She had also been turned away by two other hospitals before ending up at St. Mary's that night.
Was there nothing the City of St. Louis could do to help this woman? Nothing the State of Missouri could do? And, well…we already know the government of the United States of America -- "the greatest country on earth" -- is abandoning people like Anna Brown as fast as possible. You see, to help her would only encourage her obvious indolence, bad morals (unwed mother, you know), and dis-incentivize a proper "work ethic."
Besides, doesn't she have family, a church, somebody? These questions are not addressed in the referenced articles. And rightfully so. They are irrelevant because Ms. Brown's life and death story is not a simple matter of a "rugged individual" overcoming or failing to overcome adversity. Her story is not about the kind of "society" we imagine ourselves to be; rather, Anna Brown's life and death tell us who we really are.
The real and relevant questions are these: What kind of country allows this sort of thing to happen day in and day out? From "coast to coast" and border to border. What political “ideology” or economic "philosophy" allows people to be turned away from lifesaving medical treatment and toward certain death only because they cannot afford to pay to get their ankle fixed? Or lose their children because they cannot find work? Or sleep on the street or in subway stations and on trains and buses because they cannot afford a place to live? What kind of country is this?