We are publishing Put People First! PA’s bi-annual newsletter, The Keystone, in the season of the longest night of the year; cold, isolating and bitter. Some of us are unhoused, others sick and many have died. We memorialize those we have lost, welcome the newborn, and tell our stories of struggle in this time of the war economy creating many crises for the poor and dispossessed.
We share highlights of our organizing drive to fight the Medicaid Cut-offs, and updates on our campaign for the restoration of the full adult dental benefit to Medicaid. We share poetry, videos and member reflections from our National Nonviolent Medicaid Army’s Arts & Culture nights or following our actions & events.
We hope our stories show you why we must unite and organize ourselves to overcome division and transform society. We invite you to become involved in this struggle! — The Put People First! PA Media & Communications Team
January Put People First! PA and the Nonviolent Medicaid Army launched our 2024 #MedicaidMondays where people post selfies and stories about what Medicaid means to them on social media. This year, as we ramp up our campaign to restore the Adult Dental Benefit to Medicaid in Pennsylvania, we’re also asking folks to share stories about their experience with accessing dental care with the hashtag #WeNeedOurTeeth. Here’s some of the stories we got in January.
Medicaid Monday story from Toby Staffieri, a Lancaster County resident and a member of the South Central Healthcare Rights Committee of Put People First! PA :
“January 14, 2022 my father Louis Staffieri passed away from covid which had turned into double pneumonia in both of his lungs.
During the 4 days that he was in UPMC Lititz hospital, he was in the ICU which is used for people who are very sickly. My father went to the hospital on January 10 and passed on the 14th, 4 days later.
The death of my father should have never happened if the hospital treated him better than what they did. My dad’s insurance company would constantly not help pay for his heart meds, seizure meds and insulin for his diabetes he needed to survive.
During my time in PPF-PA I learned that healthcare is a human right and everyone should have it from the time they are born to the time they pass away.
I know that my dad didn’t have to die in the hospital from covid and pneumonia, and that if we had healthcare as a human right then we wouldn’t suffer so much. I hope that my story touches other people’s hearts and help us in the fight to make medicaid for all.
If you or someone you love has been hurt by the denial of healthcare by this system, then I want you to get involved and join the Nonviolent Medicaid Army and Put People First! PA”
Rica from Westmoreland County and a leader in the Put People First! PA Southwest Healthcare Rights Committee shares her Medicaid Monday story and experience that no one should have to go through! This is why we fight!
“This is what happens when you can’t get dental work like you’re supposed to and need to have your teeth pulled!”
Lauren from Blair County and a member of the Put People First! PA Central Appalachia Healthcare Rights Committee shares their Medicaid Monday story:
“I never saw a dentist until I was almost 20 years old. Now I am almost 34 and still have not been able to have access to affordable dental care. Our teeth are one of the most important parts of our bodies and should not require special insurance to protect them! Healthcare is a human right!”
#medicaidmondays #Medicaid4All #WeNeedOurTeeth
Nicole from Luzerne County and a member of the Put People First! PA Northeast Healthcare Rights Committee shares their Medicaid Monday story!
“This is a reminder that the state will gladly neglect you to death if you let them. These are teeth that took 20 years to remove. When I tried to take care of the problem over two decades ago, I got a 1-800 number to find a dentist. I called, and when I hit the number for state insurance, it hung up. I called again to make sure, and it hung up again. It was years of pain and abscess, it was unbearable.
I hope y’all will join me to pressure our government for the bare minimum to keep us alive.”
Share your story to demand #Medicaid4All #WeNeedOurTeeth
Our stories unite us across all lines of division, they make the invisible visible, and they help us shift the distorted narrative on poverty. With Medicaid Mondays we tell our stories of struggle to get the healthcare we need and share why Medicaid is important to us, to someone we know, or to society as a whole.
Put pressure on Gov. Shapiro and the legislature to get the Adult Dental Benefit fully restored and funded in 2024 and help fight the Medicaid cuts by sharing your story and joining the fight for our human right to all health care for ALL.
To learn more and for instructions on how to make your on Medicaid Monday post click here.
The summer marked the high activity time in our Medicaid Cutoffs Organizing Drive. Across the state, Put People First! PA held 7 People’s Clinics, where we offered blood pressure screenings and benefits sign-ups, and supported people across the state to file 15 Medicaid applications! We also held 12 Door-Knockings, where we went into our neighborhoods and knocked on doors to alert people of the Medicaid Cut-offs and invite them to join the fight against the cuts. We did People’s Clinics and Door Knockings in Westmoreland County, Oakhurst in Johnstown, Evergreen Manors in Altoona, Plymouth, Berwick, Feasterville-Trevose, Upper Darby, and Jenkintown.
We hosted and participated in organizing exchanges across regions of our state as well as nationally. Put People First! PA members participated in two national organizing exchanges with the Nonviolent Medicaid Army in Wyoming and Georgia. NEPA hosted SEPA members in Berwick in August. Every Healthcare Rights Committee was out base-building at least once a month – often more – the entire summer.
Central-Appalachia Healthcare Rights Committee Co-Coordinator, Ron reflected, “By the end of the summer, people started to know and recognize us. If you continue showing up trying to do good, eventually somebody’s going to listen. That’s what we mean when we say “political center of gravity”. We’ll be a political center of gravity when our communities are looking to us, when our powerholders recognize us, and we are able to absorb all of the poor and dispossessed. As our lives get harder (inflation, the rich getting richer while we get poorer), people look towards something and we hope that we’ve made a relationship with people so that when they look towards something, it’s towards us.”
August 19th – On Saturday members from the Southeast and Northeast Healthcare Rights Committees held an organizing exchange in Berwick PA. They knocked doors listening to people’s experiences with the healthcare system, spread awareness about the Medicaid cut-offs and how we are fighting back, and mobilized toward the Nonviolent Medicaid Army Week of Action September 17-23.
Berwick is one of many places around the state that lost their hospital due to healthcare profiteers but the people are rising up. SEPA is no stranger to hospital closures either – the Crozer system was hit hard by private equity ownership as was Hahnemann and we’ve also seen full closures at Jennersville and Brandywine Hospitals and partial closures at Mercy and Einstein.
We’re uniting across lines of division, building leaders and learning as we lead to take on the system that puts profits over our lives! Join us!
Another successful People’s Clinic held by Put People First – PA and the Put People First PA Central/Appalachia Healthcare Rights Committee. We made some new contacts, and heard from Altoona residents and their struggles to get the healthcare they so desperately deserve.
In particular we met a veteran who has been trying to provide himself with dentures for 17 years. Could you imagine living with no teeth for 17 years after serving your country? Unfortunately this story is not unique here in America, and you may be the one struggling to provide you or someone you love with care.
If you believe healthcare is a human right, and want to be a part of the change, then all I have to say is, We are the ones we have been waiting for!
Today the Put People First – PA South Central Healthcare Rights Committee along with PA Debt Collective joined Lititz Chooses Love at their Resource Center in Manheim, PA, where they have a free food pantry and gender affirming clothing bank.
Today we heard from people who have experienced being cut off of Medicaid, or who are concerned that they may be cut off from Medicaid. People also shared stories of their overall experiences with the healthcare system, outstanding hospital bills and medical debt and what they feel should change regarding the healthcare system.
This Summer & Fall, the Southeast PA Healthcare Rights Committee teamed up one to two times a month with Murphy’s Giving Market in Upper Darby. As community members waited to pick up fresh produce and other basic necessities, PPF-PA members gave blood pressure screenings, helped with benefit sign ups and talked with people about their healthcare experiences.
Murphy’s Giving Market is just down the road from Delaware County Memorial Hospital, where PPF-PA members have been taking action to protest its takeover and subsequent closure by a private equity firm. “We talked to so many people who had stories from DCMH – it was somewhere they got care, got signed up for medicaid in the past. Now it takes multiple buses to get to the next nearest hospital, and people are afraid that in a crisis, they won’t make it. It doesn’t have to be this way!” Southeast PA member Jamie shared.
Members of the Southwest PA Healthcare Rights Committee tabled at the Mission of Mercy clinic at the Convention Center in Pittsburgh PA on October 27th & 28th. We met people who had waited in line for 3 hours or more to receive dental, hearing or vision services. Many of these folks are on Medicaid/welfare but needed something that it doesn’t now provide, so we spoke about our work to restore the Adult Dental benefit for people on Medicaid. Other people spoke about not having insurance at all or not being able to afford the service, even if it’s ‘covered’ by their insurance. Why are our teeth, eyes and ears separated from the rest of our bodies for purposes of insurance? It makes no sense and we’re fighting for Medicaid for all and the human right to healthcare to overcome these insane holes in our system.
We also met people at the convention center on November 18th for the Urban League Thanksgiving food distribution. We spoke to hundreds of people who agreed that healthcare is a human right, we need Medicaid for all and a Public healthcare advocate for Pennsylvania. People also wrote on our storyboard – “How would your life be different if healthcare was a human right?” We wrote 72 postcards to the Governor, 37 to State Reps and 17 to State Senators to push for these demands and to make sure the next state budget has enough money to restore the Adult Dental Benefit for people on Medicaid.
In early June, Georgia NVMA hosted leaders in Augusta from Indiana, Vermont and Pennsylvania to build our base; identify, develop and unite leaders; and hold the first ever People’s Clinic in GA! In Georgia up to 500,000 people are projected to lose their Medicaid this year. A growing army is fighting back. This movement is national, get on board!
In December 2023, the Nonviolent Medicaid Army held an Arts & Culture night dedicated to Wyoming NVMA leader, Erro Lynd. At the end of art, songs and poems together, Erro’s partner Julia shared these words.
When Erro and I met 17 years ago, we were already on our own organizing paths. We had already been fighting in different ways for a while. I’ve been so flooded with so many memories, with so many stories from other people – the funny ones, the sad ones, the great ones. I have so much coming up, from our first friend date at the ocean, and our first kiss in the ocean. The first ways I knew Erro was both in the struggle we were in together, and in nature and in love and at home and me teaching them how to cook, and living in all four corners of the country.
There’s so much I want to say. How angry I am. How sad that Erro is dying, and how grateful I am for all the support, people flying across the country to help take care of the both of us because until three weeks ago, Erro was taking care of me, and making sure I ate and all that. Now we have people taking care of both of us, and I’m so grateful I could take Erro home.
That makes me think of how many people don’t even get this death. I’m so sad they’re dying, and how many people don’t even get this death and how many people don’t even have a home to die in. How many people don’t even have the healthcare that Erro did have even if it wasn’t…
When I tell people about what hospice is, they’re like what? They come a few hours a week? They’re not there 24/7? It’s our loved ones, our chosen family coming and being with us. It’s our chosen family and our organizing family that is helping them get here.
Erro two weeks ago was at the hospital and I was home. They were in a zoom meeting about accessibility. We were still talking about organizing stuff just a few days ago. It’s never not been a part of our fight. Our fight is for all of us. And we have personally suffered a lot under this broken messed up system. There’s no way I could have Erro at home right now, if people weren’t coming here. In that same way, there’s no winning if we’re not together.
I’m hurting, but the hurting is also more beautiful and meaningful because of the love that we have together as lovers and partners and also as organizers and with our communities and having people with us. There is meaning and beauty in the pain and it’s not just pure pain.
When I’m talking to these doctors and I’m angry that hospice only comes for a couple hours a week and they don’t get it, they don’t understand what I’m talking about with healthcare as a human right. I know they would want it, too, but there’s so many people out there who can’t yet imagine that it’s possible for all of us to truly have what we need every single day, and that is possible, and that doesn’t mean we won’t die, but we won’t die so young, we won’t die so brutally, we won’t die alone.
We finally found our organizing home here. We’ve both been organizing at least for 25 years – this is our organizing home with Put People First! PA and the Nonviolent Medicaid Army. This is the place that does have the imagination and the vision and the fight for all of us truly having what we need. There’s just been times of absolute fear that Erro was going to die in the hospital alone, and how was I going to get them home and how was I going to take care of them because I need care too.
[Julia to Erro: Oh, honey, you took such good care of me.]
And I’ve had a lot of fear about how I’m going to go forward when Erro dies. Life is not separate from this fight. This fight is life. Erro told me I’m going to love you always and forever until I can’t anymore, and that’s the same way they had the approach to organizing. They went through so many harsh treatments this year, and we were totally imperfect, but we’ve been fighting and we’re gonna keep in this fight. Erro while they’re here and when they pass on to another realm, they’re gonna be in this fight, always. They’re part of me and they’re part of all of you.
This is even getting folks together from different parts of our lives, this is the crew that got the folks together.
I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m scared a lot of times and I’m fucking grateful because I’m not alone in this, there is another kind of power that’s welling up from the togetherness in this.
On the longest night and in the darkest times, there can be singing because we’re together and that makes it a blessing and even doable. Thank you everybody for your art, and creativity and your emotion, and your power and your commitment to this fight and finding other people like all of us and beyond to be in this fight together. Erro loves you so, so much and I love you so incredibly much. Most of their words recently that they’ve been able to say is just I love you, and they’ve been telling that to everyone. They can’t speak right now, but if they could, they would be telling you all how incredibly much they love and appreciate you all for your souls and your spirit and your hearts and your fight, so thank you for being here.