by Nijmie Dzurinko

When Marie Funk, mother of PPF member Danelle Morrow, first spoke with a recruiter from Senior Life of Johnstown after moving there from Altoona in January 2015, she was told she “would never have another worry about her health.” That sounded pretty great to this 69-year old mother and grandmother.


However, Senior Life did not follow through on its promise, instead creating roadblocks to care for Marie that meant that by the time she was diagnosed with lung cancer, it was terminal. Now, Marie is crowdfunding for her cremation because the expenses might leave her daughter and grandchildren homeless. On her GoFundMe page, she writes,

“I have recently been diagnosed with stage 4 lung Cancer. Since March my doctors have ignored my complaints about my pains. Now I am terminal, and I need help to pay for my cremation, as my family is going to have trouble funding the $1500-2000 it costs to simply cremate a body. I am not asking for a funeral, just simple cremation. Please help me ease my comfort knowing my family will not have to scramble trying to come up with these funds.”

Senior Life is a Medicare Program that, according to its website, is an alternative to nursing homes. The program claims to provide people with “a comprehensive homecare plan that allows them to live at home longer and more comfortably.”

Marie’s paperwork with Senior Life was not completed until March 1, but in the interim, she was not able to get x-rays of her lungs that had been scheduled with her previous medical provider in Altoona because of a lack of transportation.

When finally admitted to Senior Life, Marie requested the x-rays on a daily basis. When the x-rays were finally completed, her nurse told her that there was some fluid in her lung. A PET scan was scheduled, but while waiting for that appointment the pain because so severe that Marie’s daughter Danelle decided to take her mother to the emergency room. On the phone with staff at Senior Life before the ER trip, she was labeled “insubordinate” for making that choice.

At the ER, Marie was immediately given an IV of pain medication and told that she could have died from congestive heart failure. Marie was kept in the hospital for 10 days, and doctors removed three liters of fluid from her lung. A PET scan and biopsy was scheduled after her release from the hospital.

On her second visit to the ER, Marie was again admitted to the hospital for nine days and received a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer.

Marie grew up in the Bellefonte area. As a teenager she waited tables and some of her fondest memories were of waiting Joe Paterno’s table, who came in before all the games. Born in Maine, Marie moved to Pennsylvania at a young age. Danelle is her only child and she is the grandmother of four.

Senior Life did not follow through on their promise to Marie, it seems she’s probably not the only one. According to a review from a former employee of Senior Life on the website Glass Door: “Encourages identifying needs of [patients] and how to avoid obtaining them. They prey on weak minded, financially troubled, mostly demented elderly. The state should re-think this type of healthcare.”

Although she is in the process of removing her mother from Senior Life’s care, Danelle feels that company’s practices should be investigated by the state. “Maybe if they had caught this in February instead of July, my mother’s life would have been extended into 2016 or beyond,” remarked Danelle.

To pledge to Marie’s crowdfunding page and support her in finding comfort, go to Marie’s Pledge to My Family .

On behalf of the Membership Assembly Planning Team we are so excited to have you at the Third Annual Put People First! PA Membership Assembly coming up on in York, PA at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, 925 S. George St., 17403. All of the information in this e-mail can also be found on the PPF blog.

This Membership Assembly marks a major milestone for all of us and we are excited to celebrate it with you. Here are just some of the exciting things that have happened over the past year:

  • We welcomed Sheila Quintana as the Field Organizer for Philadelphia and Southeast PA
  • We launched the Fayette Health Justice Campaign working in partnership with the Human Rights Coalition and the Center for Coalfield Justice and travelled to Fayette, Washington and Greene counties on a statewide tour.
  • We added a new team – the Political Education and Leadership Development Team
  • We received funding support from the DentaQuest Foundation for our inclusion of oral health as part of the overall human right to health and our grassroots engagement strategy
  • We participated in and supported the Mission of Mercy pop-up dental clinic in Harrisburg that served over 1,000 PA residents
  • We launched a healthcare survey focused on rising healthcare costs, dental care, and access to care for undocumented people
  • We hosted all of our statewide partners for a Healthcare Collaborative Convening in Philadelphia
  • We had our first ever Organizing Institute in Lancaster
  • We launched the Leadership Across Difference Project to train leadership that can unite people across our differences and undo oppressive conditioning
  • We created the Campaign Advisory Board to bring together organizing committee members, partners, staff, coordinators, and team members to one strategy table
  • We redesigned our website and updated our membership and dues system
  • We conducted a statewide membership call each month to build relationships and engage in training and leadership development
  • We conducted an analysis of the legislature matching relevant legislators and committees with districts where our members reside
  • We knocked on hundreds of doors, tabled and visited with dozens of new people throughout Southeast, Central, and Southwest PA

Which brings us to the present! Here are 12 things you need to know about the assembly:

    1. Linked you’ll find two articles – one short and one long. Please read what you have time for.
    2. Also attached to this e-mail is the PPF Core Document which has information about our history and strategy.
    3. If you volunteered for any role/task at the assembly, a Coordinator will be following up with you. Please feel free to be in touch with them in advance as well. See below for Coordinators and contact information. Please bring instruments and games that we can enjoy together.
    4. Registration and breakfast begin at on Saturday and our assembly starts at 9 am. Please plan accordingly to arrive on time if you are coming in Saturday morning. If you are arriving on Sunday morning, please check in with your Organizer for details about where to meet the group. If you’re only coming for a day but need housing the night before, please get in touch with the housing coordinator ASAP. Drivers can be reimbursed for gas and tolls with receipts. Please bring the receipts with you.
    5. Childcare, food, transportation, and accommodations are provided. You’ll be receiving information about transportation and accommodations this week.
    6. Young people are welcome at the assembly! Childcare will be coordinated by trained providers with full background clearances. Please bring games and toys that your children enjoy.
    7. Everyone who needs a bed and closed door room to sleep in for any reason as well as elders and people with religious requirements will be provided one.
    8. We are following the food preferences that you provided in your registration form. Feel free to bring some of your own food items, there will be refrigerators and freezers at the Membership Assembly location as well as housing locations. We are providing breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturday and breakfast and lunch on Sunday. We will be ending before dinnertime on Sunday
    9. What should you bring? a) Toiletries b) Sunscreen/bug spray if you feel that you need it – we will be spending some, but not a lot of time outside c) Air mattress/sleeping bag if you have it d) Paper/pen or device to write notes e) Your contribution to the assembly if you pledged one (cash preferred) f) games, toys, instruments, etc. g) festive and costume-wear (depicting sick people and people from various walks of life) for our street theater activity at the York Fair on Sunday morning – including fun/festive hats, suits/dress-up gear, work uniforms, graduation caps and gowns, crutches, slings and braces, etc.
    10. Our opening activity will be a spirit-building exercise “Who are you here for?” Reflect before the assembly on why you are a part of Put People First and why our work matters to you. During the opening go-round we will share with the group who we’re here for. This could be groups of people, people who live in a certain place or share a certain identity or experience, or specific people. The intention here is to ground ourselves in our lived realities and share with each other why this community and this movement matters to us. During the opening we will also be sharing our preferred gender pronoun, to acknowledge and respect the rights of our members to gender self-determination.
    11. We will be live-streaming the assembly. If you know of people who can’t make it but who have internet access and want to watch and listen in, please let us know.
    12. We have a shared playlist for the Membership Assembly on Spotify. If you’re on Spotify and you’d like us to share it with you or if you have ideas for tunes that are uplifting, powerful and speak to our values, let us know and we’ll add them to the list!

Here, again, are the readings for the Membership Assembly:

If you have questions about any of this: your housing/sleeping arrangements, food, childcare, etc, please email us at and we’ll connect you with the person coordinating that part of the Assembly.

I first heard about the shooting of Alan Pean by off-duty policemen at St. Joseph Medical Center in Houston twenty minutes after I got my first anatomy exam of medical school back.  This news sounded like so much of the news I’ve gotten for the past year: an unarmed black person was shot by police officers. This time in a hospital. As usual, the trained, armed officer feared for his life. I was still studying, still investigating every paper-thin layer of my cadaver, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what exactly I was studying for. Medicine’s political context is there regardless of whether I choose to engage it, and tragedies like this one make it clear that we need to engage these issues together, with input and leadership from the people affected.

“Gaps” are probably one of our favorite metaphors in healthcare. Gaps in coverage can be filled. If we keep doing good work, the gaps will be filled until there are no more gaps. It suggests a well-designed bridge with a few mistakes in it, the kind that a few experts can fix with localized, single-issue efforts. The problem with this is that it treats Alan Pean as an aberration, a random mistake, and therefore not a moment to take action or to change. The most recent engagement of the American Medical Association with it’s “Violence Prevention” advocacy topic was a letter to a Senator from 2014, which only dues-paying doctors and medical students may read. Its most recent and publicly available advocacy update makes no mention of gun violence, let alone the epidemic of police brutality disproportionately affecting Black Americans, or the Black Lives Matter movement. The Texas Medical Association’s site (“Physicians Caring for Texans”) makes no mention of any of these issues either. Physicians from Mt. Sinai Hospital made a powerful statement decrying the “outrage” of Pean’s shooting. They gathered nearly 3,000 signatures, but the Medical Society of the State of New York and the New York County Medical Society also seem to either lack the infrastructure for reacting, or consider these issues beyond the scope of their work. Physicians for a National Health Program has been the only national organization of medical activists to engage this issue, taking cues from the leadership of their student division, SNaHP, in amplifying the message behind the WhiteCoats4BlackLives action.

Efforts are being made to use public health discourse as a space for engaging the issues the Black Lives Matter movement has shined a light on (make time for Dr. Mary T. Bassett’s article in the New England Journal of Medicine), but still, the predominant story is about “gaps” in coverage. So when uninsured people die, or when the disciplining and punishing arms of the state show up to work alongside us as our colleagues, we can safely say that “we’re working on it,” that Alan Pean’s suffering is a hiccup in a system which is reflective and self-aware.

I think many people in healthcare are indeed reflective, and want to make it their job to address these kinds of issues. I admire these people sincerely. These relationships will make sure I become not just a caring provider, but a reflective person. They will help me think critically about what our “good work” means when healthcare is married to systems which enact violence: the police, the military and militarism, prisons, and for-profit insurance companies. We need to actively re-position ourselves in order to deal with these issues, but we barely even have space to talk about them.

We need better vehicles for having these conversations and taking action. Alan Pean was shot in the chest by colleagues of those charged with his care. That isn’t a gap. That’s a crisis. When we talk about disparity or the “social determinants of health,” we’re not just talking about “gaps,” we’re talking about politics, and we’re talking about violence. The shooting of a black man in a hospital is not a random accident. It took place in a healthcare context marked by its close ties to systems which actively make us unsafe and unhealthy. The deplorable healthcare provided within our system of mass incarceration, the immense power and influence of insurance companies and lobbies which make profit by denying us life-saving care, and hospitals which collaborate with a police system unable to serve or protect the most vulnerable – these are all part and parcel of healthcare as we know it.

There are few major platforms for talking about Alan Pean and the healthcare system’s other victims, or for engaging with healthcare’s many deep contradictions. We lack space for listening (ask a primary care provider), and taking action together is practically unheard of. Who should we be listening to, what are our interests, and who should we be acting with? We need to invest in spaces for figuring this out, spaces whose membership is not restricted based on class, race, gender identity, citizenship, or education. We need to get in those spaces, and listen. These are the spaces that passed Act 48 in Vermont. They are the only kinds of spaces that can fundamentally change the way we relate to each other, change the way we take care of each other, and change the structures which have convinced us that we are isolated and powerless.

Karim Sariahmed is a medical student and a member of Put People First PA, and has also worked with Healthcare-NOW!

Twitter: @sariahmed


Together We Will Do This by Richard Burrill


Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” – Bob Dylan


Two years ago I attended a forum sponsored by a group called Healthcare4All at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. When I left that meeting, I was convinced that single-payer healthcare* was the way to go. I had just heard doctors, nurses and an economist speak of how beneficial it would be for our nation to change to this kind of system, and to individuals’ financial situations. Last year over 60% of bankruptcies in the United States were caused by medical expenses. This is an issue that affects so many people, and yet it can be difficult to imagine change.


I began to speak to others about this, but was somewhat discouraged that most of them couldn’t imagine such a thing, since they had always paid so much for insurance and medical care. I found it really challenging to find a way to work with others in advancing this idea.


Early last year, I was invited to attend a meeting in York, PA, by a group concerning healthcare. It turned out that the group was called Put People First! PA, and the gentleman speaking, Eliel Acosta, said that PPF-PA advocated healthcare for all and wanted to establish a local chapter in York County. Here were people that were established a couple of years before and espoused my beliefs, so I decided to join them.


Today, we have a small group in our community organization, but it’s a beginning with good possibilities of growth. It is exciting that PPF-PA is going around this state of over 13 million people in an effort to build more local communities. As we grow, we will educate more residents, gain confidence and power to accomplish our goals. Together we will do this.


*A system of providing healthcare that is universal, free at the point of service and paid for through equitable tax contributions; that eliminates profiteering by insurance corporations, and controls medical costs through economies of scale.


Activism is my rent for living on the planet.” – Alice Walker