My name is Philip. I have had the privilege of visiting the US several times over the last few years. Two times on a J1 visa to work over the summer and another for a shorter but still sweet visit. I struggle to stay away: the wide open spaces, impressive vistas but mostly importantly, the inherent warmth of the people I’ve met in my time there. I have been welcomed, befriended and loved. That spirit stays with me, even after the plane ride home.

I have also been very lucky, I was born in the UK. I was born prematurely, c-sectioned. The intensive care unit being the first surroundings I became familiar with. I got better, thanks to the diligent work of the hospital staff lookingn after me and despite a traumatic start, my mother and father got to take me home. They could start their life with me, unburdened by worries of payments and costs.

Both my father and I have been rushed to hospital at least once in our lifetimes since then and have left healed and healthier with no bill attached to our treatment. My mother has recently had procedures to help with her vision as she grows older. All without fear of how we’d find the funds to pay. I have lived a life, grown up to become an adult knowing nothing else but universal healthcare in the National Health System (NHS).

I am lucky. I have loved ones in the U.S. whose debts get bigger and bigger with each treatment, people who I’ve met who are almost afraid to get sick because of the cost incurred, friends who have suffered because their medication has been switched to something cheaper. I don’t know why it has to be this way.

Well actually, I do because we live in a world, in a system where profit is the goal above everything else – even our own lives. I’m sure you’ve heard the horror stories about the NHS: the waiting times, the care coverage. The NHS is in crisis, they say.

Every winter, on the loop, for over a decade. This is because providing a basic level of healthcare for all isn’t profitable for the powers that be. For years now, our health service has been undermined, sold off and smeared. The health service that meant I am here today, alive.

Under a private system, my birth and it’s complications could’ve cost my parents up to 23,000 pounds. That’s 30,000 dollars. Money they just wouldn’t have had. The NHS isn’t perfect, I’m not here to tell you it is. A universal healthcare system is always going to be a struggle in the society we live in but the benefit to an average person, the lives saved and prolonged with it in place far outweigh the frustrations of sitting in a waiting-room chair a while. Something that still happens under the current US system despite privatization.

Most people in the US pay into work-based health insurance, taking about 20% of their earnings. In the UK, we pay 13% into a host of benefits and assistance services including disability allowance and unemployment. The NHS is just a small fraction of that. Let’s be generous and say it’s 5% of the money I currently earn, that’s just under 11 pound a month… 14 dollars. A quick run to Wal-Mart. You could have this too, you just need to make yourself heard, be so loud they can’t ignore you.

Put People First! PA believes that healthcare is a human right, just like me. They fight for universal healthcare, to support the poor and dispossessed who cannot afford increasingly expensive private insurances. I have U.S. American people that I love and I don’t want to see them suffer anymore. Their lives and their health are priceless to me.

I don’t want to come across as preaching, I just want you to consider there is an alternative. You don’t need to spend ridiculous money on medicines, you don’t need to worry about whether or not to call an ambulance. There is an alternative, we just have to fight for it.

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This content originally appeared in Put People First! PA’s semi-annual newsletter, The Keystone. The Keystone is a great introduction to Put People First! PA, our work, and our community. It’s all written by our members for our own communication and education, and for supporters and new relationships to get to know us better. Each issue features reports from our work, news about our victories, stories about the health care system and the other issues affecting our communities, and poetry and artwork. Check out past and present editions here: Newsletter Archive.

The first time I heard of Put People First! PA was when the Lancaster HRC began organizing around the closing of St. Joseph’s Hospital. At the time I couldn’t participate much, but I started to talk with members and helped put up posters about the action. About half a year later I was finally able to go to a PPF-PA action, and that’s when I started to get more involved. I began attending meetings and went to the Leadership Institute in York. The community is what has kept me. 

Lately I’ve continued to take on more roles within PPF-PA – I’ve joined the community care team, and I helped keep our group together during our recent Medicaid March on Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital. Life still gets in the way more than I would like it too, but when we talk about a movement of the working class, it’s more than a platitude. I know I have a place here and will continue to be more and more involved in the movement.

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This content originally appeared in Put People First! PA’s semi-annual newsletter, The Keystone. The Keystone is a great introduction to Put People First! PA, our work, and our community. It’s all written by our members for our own communication and education, and for supporters and new relationships to get to know us better. Each issue features reports from our work, news about our victories, stories about the health care system and the other issues affecting our communities, and poetry and artwork. Check out past and present editions here: Newsletter Archive.

By Nijmie Dzurinko

Did you know that some scholars believe that Jesus died for our debt, not our sins? According to economist Michael Hudson, the word for sin and debt is the same in almost every language. He and other scholars like the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis assert that the Bible is about economics, not the distorted moral narrative of Christian nationalism we have been taught to believe. Jesus believed in debt jubilee, the practice of canceling all debts every seven years. He was against the exploitation of the poor by the rich, which is why he was such a threat to the state, and he was crucified, a punishment for political dissidents.

Over two thousand years later, medical debt is one of the leading causes of homelessness in the U.S. today. 

Dealing with a chronic illness is bad enough, without worrying about losing your house! The stress of debt and dealing with insurance companies and bill collectors makes health conditions worse. In 2018, the American Journal of Medicine reported that almost half of cancer patients drain their life’s assets within two years and are almost three times as likely to file for bankruptcy than those without cancer, which puts them at risk for early death.

When the fundraising team of Put People First! PA found out about RIP Medical Debt, we envisioned starting a medical debt jubilee campaign. We saw that various individuals and groups had worked with RIP Medical Debt to raise money to cancel medical debt in the past, but usually not organizing groups, so we had to conduct our campaign differently.

RIP Medical Debt uses donations to purchase bundled medical debt portfolios that have gone through collection agencies for months or years. Using third-party credit data providers, it targets debt incurred by people facing financial hardship, and then forgives it. For every $1 dollar raised, $100 in medical debt is abolished.

The great thing about working with RIP Medical Debt is that they are experts at purchasing debt and they handle the fundraising platform. They helped us identify a set of counties in PA situated right next to each other with debt available for purchase exceeding $1.5 million. That is the minimum amount of debt they need to conduct a campaign, meaning that we were responsible for raising at least $15,000 over the course of four months.

There are three things about OUR Medical Debt Jubilee campaign that made it unique:

  • We framed the campaign in a political way: as a call for debt jubilee and the universal human right to healthcare, not merely as a charity campaign. Everywhere we talked about the campaign we emphasized that we were raising funds to cancel debt because we don’t believe in a healthcare system based on profit. Following in the footsteps of Jesus the revolutionary, we seek to abolish the very mechanisms by which people are forced into medical debt in the first place.
  • We used the Medical Debt campaign as a place for leadership development and developing the clarity, competence, commitment and connection of our own members. Just as everything we do we do to develop leaders, the same with this campaign. 
  • We ensured that everyone who has their debt cancelled through the process has an opportunity to find out about and join Put People First! PA. We are about organizing and building power among the 140 million poor and dispossessed people in the U.S. today, millions of whom are suffering with medical debt. Every person whose debt is abolished gets a letter introducing them to Put People First! PA and inviting them to join or start a Healthcare Rights Committee.

Ultimately we raised over $16,000 and abolished medical debt for individuals in 20 counties in Western and Central PA who make less than 2 times the federal poverty level, have a debt that is 5% or more of their annual income, or who have already declared bankruptcy. Over 1000 households saw debt relief through our campaign and thereby learned that they are not alone with their struggle, that people are fighting back, and that they can join our ranks.

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This content originally appeared in Put People First! PA’s semi-annual newsletter, The Keystone. The Keystone is a great introduction to Put People First! PA, our work, and our community. It’s all written by our members for our own communication and education, and for supporters and new relationships to get to know us better. Each issue features reports from our work, news about our victories, stories about the health care system and the other issues affecting our communities, and poetry and artwork. Check out past and present editions here: Newsletter Archive.

This Spring, Hahnemann Hospital, a 150+ year old Philadelphia Institution, declared bankruptcy and began the process of closing its doors. Here is the story of Hahnemann through member stories.

Member Remarks given at the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival Hearing
Clarissa O’Conor

My name is Clarissa O’Conor, and I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I am currently a third-year medical student at Drexel University College of Medicine and a member of Put People First! PA. 

I had just started my third year of medical school at Chester Crozer Hospital in June when I heard that Hahnemann Hospital was closing. Hahnemann was the main teaching hospital of Drexel. The hedge fund manager who had purchased Hahnemann a year earlier was filing for bankruptcy, having separated the valuable Center City real estate from the hospital itself. 

Hahnemann Hospital opened in 1885, and became the de facto city hospital for the city of Philadelphia, serving mainly people on Medicaid and Medicare. Over 2,500 people are losing their jobs. 570 residents and interns, or doctors in training, had to scramble to relocate. This is a crisis.

I will not have the opportunity to learn from the doctors, nurses, and patients at Hahnemann Hospital. Since the closing, I have learned amazing things about the hospital. For example, Hahnemann midwives and ob-gyns built relationships with home birth midwives so that people laboring at home could be safely transferred to the hospital if needed. I also learned from members of ACT-UP that Hahnemann was the first hospital in the city to offer care to people who have HIV and AIDS. 

There is no doubt that the closure of Hahnemann Hospital is a symptom of our ongoing healthcare crisis and the war on the poor writ large. In the City of Philadelphia the total number of primary care providers accepting Medicaid has declined in recent years. Communities with the lowest supply of primary care providers are more commonly low-income and have high proportions of people of color. There are 520,457 people on Medicaid in Philadelphia (33.2% of the population).

Hospitals are also closing across the country, especially in rural areas. In my hometown of Lancaster, PA, UPMC closed St. Joe’s Hospital, leaving the city with one emergency room.

People in power, like the Drexel medical school administration, want us medical students to “feel bad for the people affected most by the closure.” It’s not hard to see this rhetoric as an attempt to cool our righteous anger and keep us from organizing.  I am here to say that I am directly affected by the healthcare crisis, and I refuse to see my interests as separate from those of the patients and employees of Hahnemann Hospital. My membership in Put People First! PA has allowed me to see the closing of Hahnemann Hospital for what it is – a symptom of the ongoing crisis and war on the poor and dispossessed and an opportunity to organize our community, including medical students and healthcare workers, into our organization and vision of healthcare for all, no exceptions, and a united poor and working class across Pennsylvania.

We as Put People First! PA demand an end to hospital closures; a Public Healthcare Advocate, who will fight for the healthcare rights for all Pennsylvanians; the protection of Medicaid with no cuts or hurdles, the restoration of the adult benefit in Medicaid, the protection of Medicare, and the implementation of single-payer universal health care for all and access to mental health professionals.”

Excerpt from remarks given August 20th at Kingsessing Public Library event on the closing of Hahnemann Hospital
Farrah Samuels

My name is Farrah Samuels, and I am a stage IV cancer survivor, and a proud member of an organization called Put People First! PA (PPF-PA). In the battle for securing all our human rights, we believe in supporting one another, which is why, most recently, we helped co-organize several rallies, protest actions and marches concerning the closing of Hahnemann Hospital in collaboration with PASNAP and District 1199c workers. It represents just one story in the recent onslaught of hospital and health care facility closings nationally that disproportionately affect low income individuals and working families. This deliberate attack on health care providers and the closing of facilities is a main component of this country’s ongoing war on the poor.

Safety-net hospitals such as Hahnemann, have primarily served the lowest income and most vulnerable patients; and they can play an important role in maintaining the health and safety of the public, just as our schools, libraries, police and firemen do. It is a real shame when safety nets such as Hahnemann are driven to closure by real estate entities seeking to turn over a profit on the backs of the poor and dispossessed. I work as a consultant for several of the City’s emergency shelters for the homeless, Center for Hope, SELF, and ODAAT, located in North Philly. Many of the homeless that come off the streets and enter the shelter system are then linked to permanent housing options through initial referrals from hospitals like Hahnemann. The condition of being homeless renders a lot of these folks medically fragile with a host of co-occurring chronic health conditions. Being on the street means they lack basic access to routine medical care. For years, Hahnemann has been the default healthcare provider of many of Philadelphia’s homeless. Sure, the homeless can go to other hospitals, but many of them stay and congregate in the neighborhoods surrounding Hahnemann; and in their fragile conditions, they may not make the journey as far as another hospital. Proximity can mean the difference between life and death very literally.

Hahnemann has also been the healthcare provider for many of Philadelphia’s inmate population from the county jail, Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. The jail routinely transported inmates to Hahnemann to address their medical needs. If you believe that healthcare is a basic human right, then you must also believe and support the notion that inmates are also entitled to medical care just like any other citizens. Many of us have experienced the trauma and pain of having a loved one locked up and wondering if they are ok or if they will get adequate care if they get sick. Where will they go now?

Hahnemann has also been a safety net hospital for many individuals covered by Medicaid and Medicare insurance, such as myself; and it has saved countless lives, including my own. In 2015, I was experiencing considerable stomach pain, fatigue and exhaustion.

At the time, I was an Adjunct Professor of a course at a local college and struggling to put my life back together after foreclosure on my home, the death of my father, the loss of my job, and a brief stint with homelessness. It was then that I learned that illness does not discriminate; and we are all just one diagnosis or step away from things falling apart. I made a salary of $5,000 that year, and as such, qualified for Medicaid. One day when the pain got too much to bear, I decided to go to Hahnemann’s Emergency Department. I was examined, diagnosed with fibroids after initial x-rays, and sent home.

I learned that the initial analysis of my x-rays had missed something and that I had a rare form of soft tissue sarcoma cancer called leiomyosarcoma. I was told I had three months to live and that I needed to seek follow-up care with a hematologist and oncologist.

I began a rigorous routine of inpatient chemotherapy on an aggressive combination of four potent chemotherapy drugs and would spend one out of every three weeks, staying at the hospital to receive this treatment.

The entire treatment ordeal lasted 18 months and on Election Day 2016, I woke up in remission and also overwhelmed by the news of who had won the Presidential election. I knew what this change in presidential administration could mean for other uninsured or Medicaid-insured poor people struggling with chronic health conditions and life-threatening illnesses. I cried tears of joy and sadness at the same time. Had it not been for Hahnemann and their due diligence, I would not have been diagnosed, and may never have had the fighting chance I did to make it through the fire and be here today. And had it not been for Medicaid, I would not have been able to afford the treatment that saved my life. Everyone deserves that same fighting chance that I had.

Hahnemann’s closing is a symptom of the larger financial and operational issues affecting hospitals nationwide. On average, in recent years, there have been 30 hospital closures in rural and urban annually; and this seems to be a trend with no end in sight. Meanwhile, hundreds of shiny, high-tech medical centers have opened in more affluent surrounding suburbs to cater to the rich in areas such as the Main Line.

It all begs the question of what health care really is and what we believe about it. Is it a basic human right, as we believe in Put People First! PA? Or is it a privilege for those who can afford it? Is it a commodity to be bought, sold, and traded by for-profit companies and investors more concerned with gentrification and building luxury condos for the rich than saving human lives? Help us secure care for all, stop the closure of more safety net hospitals and prevent needless deaths because every life matters.

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This content originally appeared in Put People First! PA’s semi-annual newsletter, The Keystone. The Keystone is a great introduction to Put People First! PA, our work, and our community. It’s all written by our members for our own communication and education, and for supporters and new relationships to get to know us better. Each issue features reports from our work, news about our victories, stories about the health care system and the other issues affecting our communities, and poetry and artwork. Check out past and present editions here: Newsletter Archive.