The week of September 16th, in three sites across Pennsylvania, Put People First! PA Healthcare Rights Committees (HRCs) and sibling organizations in the PA Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival took to the streets to make the invisible visible and target healthcare profiteers. Every September, PPF-PA has a Week of Action in the lead up to the Statewide Membership Assembly. This year, we had Medicaid Marches in Johnstown, Lancaster and Philadelphia. The “Medicaid March” centers people who are on, need or are excluded from Medicaid in the fight to achieve healthcare as a universal human right for all people. The first Medicaid March took place earlier this year in Vermont, and we thank the Vermont Workers Center for giving us the inspiration!
The Medicaid Marchers called for:
- No added hurdles or cuts to Medicaid
- Full dental coverage under Medicaid
- A Public Healthcare Advocate for PA to fight for people’s – not companies – healthcare rights and
- A local demand based on the profiteers and conditions most affecting the area.
This year, we had over 150 marchers and the most statewide press coverage we’ve received since our Public Hearing victory in 2016. We gave out hundreds of flyers and recruited many new numbers to Put People First! PA’s Nonviolent Medicaid Army.
Lancaster Medicaid March on Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital
Photo: Group across the street from Penn Medicine LGH
On Saturday September 21, 2019 the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee hosted a Medicaid March from Penn Square to Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital. We were joined by leaders of the National Union of the Homeless, Party for Socialism & Liberation and leaders of Put People First! PA from Philadelphia, York, Norristown, and Harrisburg. After the March many of us gathered together for dinner and a meeting to discuss next steps in establishing and building a Lancaster Homeless Union.
While at the square the Co-Emcees, Anne & myself welcomed and thanked everyone and shared a background of information of why Penn Medicine was our Healthcare profiteer target. We linked the closing of UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster, affectionately known as St. Joseph’s Hospital to the egregious practices and the grip Penn Medicine has on Lancaster County. We linked the issues of healthcare and housing through these two conglomerate healthcare corporations and expressed Lancaster was in need of both a Homeless Union and a Healthcare Rights Committee. (https://www.facebook.com/PutPeopleFirstPA/videos/2405597459655087/)
Before the march took place there was a series of speakers, Kim from the York HRC shared his healthcare story. He described the need for healthcare as a human and further explained Put People First! PA demand for a Public Healthcare Advocate for ALL of Pennsylvania. (https://www.facebook.com/PutPeopleFirstPA/videos/502711253884102/)
Nick from Party for Socialism & Liberation read a statement written by another PSL member, Faith. She shared her struggle with getting the dental care she needs because of being kicked off her Medicaid just because she made a few dollars over the qualifying income limit and stated her commitment to build a working class movement to change the system. (https://www.facebook.com/PutPeopleFirstPA/videos/2965560976792351/)
Photo: Marching up East Chestnut Street
The third and final speaker before the March began was actually a group, the leaders from the National Union of the Homeless took the stage and solidified the interconnectedness of healthcare and housing. Anthony Prince inspired the Lancaster HRC to discuss the possibility of hosting a “Day after Thanksgiving Dinner” this year to build solidarity, identify leaders for the Lancaster Homeless Union and to challenge the “feel good” narrative used around the holidays. (https://www.facebook.com/PutPeopleFirstPA/videos/2760164607335931/)
After the National Union of the Homeless were done speaking, Jacob Butterly, PPF-PA Leader from Norristown & Theo-Musicologists of the PA Poor People’s Campaign a National Call for Moral Revival led us in song. We began with “Rich Man’s House” as we prepared to March to Penn Medicine LGH. (https://www.facebook.com/PutPeopleFirstPA/videos/540678946703404?sfns=mo)
As we were marching along our path the community showed their support by cheering, honking their horns, and grabbing their phones to film us. We were joined along the way by a community member we had connected with who has an interest in being a founding member of the Lancaster Homeless Union. (https://www.facebook.com/PutPeopleFirstPA/videos/2393471957569799/)
Photo: NUH & Patrick
When we got close to Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital we passed a nursing home & rehabilitation center which is now called Rose City. Last year they went through some challenges. The healthcare profiteer who owned the nursing was stripped of ownership of the facility by the state of Pennsylvania and both the staff and residents were struggling during the time of limbo.
The staff of Rose City scrambled funds together to purchase 20 loaves of bread so the residents would have bread and used their own credit cards to pay for the transportation needs of the residents to get to their needed appointments. Things were so bad for the workers at that time because they lost their coverage to healthcare and during this time there was a diabetic who was worried they wouldn’t be able to get their insulin and an expectant mother who’s due date was only a few weeks away. Eventually the state gave over ownership of this facility to another healthcare profiteer. (https://lancasteronline.com/news/local/new-owner-could-be-coming-for-lancaster-nursing-home-union/article_bbd3729e-5525-11e8-b8fd-6b6443c61558.html)
As we walked past Rose City, we shouted into the bullhorn our love for the workers and residents of the nursing home. Stating we have their back and demand Rose City treat their workers and residents justly. The workers came outside and cheered us on, raising their arms & fists in agreement and in that moment the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee knew we had identified our next healthcare profiteer target.
Photo: Group outside Penn Medicine LGH
When we arrived at Penn Medicine LGH we chanted and made our presence known to them. We had three Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee leaders share their concerns about the corrupt practices of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital in our community.
Anne started us off with the chanting, a brief comment of some factual information about Penn Medicine’s hold over Lancaster County then shared her concern about the sexual assaults that Penn Medicine failed to report to the appropriate authorities in the appropriate manner. She shared with us, as a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, why she is reluctant to ever seek the care she needs.
Photo: Rae & Christian (“Whistleblower” Doctor)
Rae, a new leader in the Lancaster HRC, and a birth doula in Lancaster County, PA, shared her concerns about the lack of care expectant mothers received from Penn Medicine LGH in late 2017. A doctor and whistleblower of the incident surrounding the false claims filed with Medicaid about the Obstetric ultrasounds, helped bring this issue to light earlier this year. Rae was great with not only bringing this concern to light but also highlighted the issue that the Lancaster County residents on the southern end of the County lack the necessary access to a hospital, connecting the needs of both urban and rural residents. (https://www.facebook.com/PutPeopleFirstPA/videos/320221138788490/)
Matthew, Co-Coordinator of the Lancaster HRC shared his personal story about the negligent care he received at Penn Medicine LGH and expressed why he was not only concerned but absolutely reluctant just as Anne is, to ever seek care there again. The problem with that is Penn Medicine LGH is now the only hospital we have left within city limits and transportation is something that Matthew doesn’t have easy access to. (https://www.facebook.com/PutPeopleFirstPA/videos/1392843090891219/)
After the Medicaid March ended a group of us gathered at a local church to eat dinner, debrief the action and listened to stories shared by the leaders of the National Union of the Homeless. The Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee of Put People First! PA and the National Union of the Homeless agreed on the next steps for building the Lancaster Homeless Union. Together, we will organize, Base Build, identify leaders & development them, so we can address both the housing and healthcare crisis we have happening in our community.
-Tammy Rojas, Lancaster HRC, PPF-PA
Going to the Medicaid March sponsored by the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee of Put People First! PA was very inspiring! It was the first time I had ever been there, but I could feel the passion in the truth that was spoken there. My YouTube channel is John Doe13k and I videoed the event from start to finish as we walked from Penn Square downtown to Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital. There were many who were curious and supportive during the march to the hospital. One lady told the person she was talking to, “I have to hang up now, there’s some people marching and I want to get video.”
Many people had their phones out to video us as we passed by. They seemed very supportive, like maybe, their hopes were, you might even be saving their lives through your words. The best part for me was when even the staff waved back in support of our support for them at the rehab facility. Put People First! PA, you’re making a positive and strengthening difference within your region. I’m proud to have to have walked with you! (https://youtu.be/hdrzU0xxPH8)
-Wes White, National Union of the Homeless, Salinas, CA Chapter
Although the Lancaster’s HRC’s Medicaid March targeted Penn Medicine LGH on September 21st, it also highlighted many of the challenges that the poor and dispossessed are facing in Lancaster. We were joined by our fellow HRC members from Philadelphia, York, Norristown, and Harrisburg as well as the National Union of the Homeless and the Party for Socialism & Liberation. The march began at Penn Square. Tammy and I emceed the march. Kim from PPF’s York HRC highlighted the struggles he’s faced throughout his life with healthcare in PA. Nick from PSL shared a piece written by a fellow member of PSL, describing how her health has repeatedly been put at risk due to the lack of dental care and abysmally narrow window to qualify for medicaid. Members from the National Union of the Homeless told everyone about the challenges that the homeless experience because they’re often seen as dispensable, invisible, and abusive to the medical system. Jacob Butterly, a leader of PPF’s Norristown’s HRC and a theo-musicologist with The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, led us in songs and chants at Penn Square, outside Penn Medicine LGH, and along the march. We left Penn Square and marched to Penn Medicine LGH. Lancaster residents showed their support by honking, cheering, and taking video of the march.
The first stop on the march was outside the new Starbucks located in The Row, the ground floor section of the new 101NQ building which will also provide office space and outrageously priced luxury condos to the retirees Lancaster is hoping to attract from surrounding states, claiming that Lancaster will give you the big city feel without the hassle.101NQ is located across the street from Binns Park, an area where many of Lancaster’s homeless population congregate during the day. The Lancaster HRC expressed fears that the homeless will be chased out of yet another place that they can go once 101NQ and the Binns Park renovation is completed because they’ll be considered an eyesore and a blight on the otherwise beautiful area, which will also contain the new city’s library, another place the homeless frequent. They’re forced to congregate in these areas because they’re not allowed to stay in the Water Street Mission and other shelters during the day, and it seems that the city wishes they’d disappear permanently. The march participants were also informed of the practice of putting bars on the benches in order to discourage the homeless from sleeping in the park both during the day and at night.
101NQ was used as a prime example to point out the gentrification sweeping through Lancaster like a tornado, with the poor and dispossessed being swept up with it. The current lack of affordable housing, beautification of building facades and streets, the addition of bike lanes, and mass evictions of low income housing as landlords try to maximize the returns before prices skyrocket and developers are buying up bargain-basement priced houses to flip were highlighted as yet another example of how the city of Lancaster seems to have waged a war on its poor.
Our next stop was outside Rose City Nursing Home, a possible next target for the Lancaster HRC. The nursing home was written up in the local paper because of the lack of resources the owners provided for the care of the residents: workers were pooling together funds to buy 20 loaves of bread to feed the residents and to provide transportation for the residents to get to doctor appointments. The workers also had their healthcare benefits cancelled, leaving one employee who was experiencing a high-risk pregnancy within weeks of delivery not knowing how she was going to pay for her baby’s delivery and any care they might need after the birth. We got cheers and fist pumps from nurses and/or CNAs outside as they heard us talking about our supporting the workers and calling out negligence on the part of their employers.
Our last stop was outside our target: Penn Medicine LGH. Penn Medicine is the largest employer and landowner in Lancaster and was our target for three reasons:
- They’re continually operating over-capacity, with wait times to be seen in the ER being as long as 8 hours, ambulances not being able to go to their next calls because there’s nowhere to put their patients, and waiting up to 24 hours to get a bed in the hospital; 308 people left the ER without being seen during the first month the old St. Joseph’s Hospital was closed and patients are being seen in the halls because there aren’t enough rooms in the current ER, violating their HIPPA rights
- They’re under investigation by the State Attorney for billing Medicaid for ultrasounds that were performed for high-risk pregnancies but not read in the required time frame, often not until after the babies were born or not at all; the women may not even know that they were victims in this atrocity
- They failed in their duties as mandated reporters by continuing to employ a doctor despite over a decade of reports of his sexually assaulting patients and a respiratory therapist who was sexually assaulting comatose patients. These situations were brought to light only when nurses finally had enough and reported them directly to authorities.
I talked about how, as both an advocate and a survivor of sexual abuse and domestic violence, I, like many other survivors, often forego annual physicals, medical screenings, and dental treatment due to the way it triggers me from my abuse and because of the lack of control and vulnerability I have in these situations. My fears are compounded each time I hear about sexual assaults by medical professionals, and knowing that I would have to go to a facility that knowingly allowed assaults to happen has destroyed any consideration I may have had about attempting to undergo any type of screening or exam. We also listened to Matt, the co-coordinator of the Lancaster HRC, as he described the horrendous experiences he had while attempting to get treatment for mental health and contrasting it with the sympathetic, supportive care he received at the old St. Joseph’s Hospital. Rae, a birth doula in the Lancaster community, addressed how important good prenatal care is for pregnant women and emphasized how their treatment by Penn Medicine has compromised the health, safety, and lives of both mothers and babies and could have catastrophic ramifications.
Our day didn’t end when we finished the march. We gathered at the Community Mennonite Church for dinner and to plan the next steps to kick off the first homeless union in PA. Members of the National Union of the Homeless gave PPF concrete next steps that we can take to get a homeless union off the ground and offered their support to make this idea a reality. The Lancaster HRC has decided to adopt their Day After Thanksgiving Dinner as the launch of establishing a homeless union in Lancaster. We have begun doing outreach with the homeless and have identified at least one leader eager to build the union. Although the medicaid march has ended, this new area of work tying homelessness and healthcare for the Lancaster HRC has just begun.
-Anne Winslow, Co-Coordinator of the Lancaster HRC, PPF-PA
It was an honor to be a participant in the Medicaid March on Sept. 21st. As a Birth Doula and Childbirth Educator, I’m terribly concerned about Women’s health issues and the lack of emergency access for mothers within our community. The United States has the highest maternal death rate of any developed country and the rate is rising. 700-900 women die a year from pregnancy or birth related complications. Worse yet, the risk of pregnancy related deaths for Black women is 3 to 4 times higher than those of White women, according to the CDC. The 4th trimester ( 3 months after baby arrives) is a crucial time for support and aid for women and babies. Maternal deaths occur from factors that arise during this gap in time for care. I marched because those in power need to “HEAR OUR VOICES” Lancaster needs quick access for maternity emergency care, not over crowded waiting rooms.
-Rae Johnson-Bundy, Lancaster HRC, PPF-PA
My name is Matthew Rosing I’m the coordinator of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee and a 2019 Mother Jones leader with Put People First! PA and I took part in the Lancaster Medicaid March this year. I was very happy to see the support we received from fellow Put People First! PA members, the National Union of the Homeless and the community. This March was to highlight the issues we have discovered about Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital in our community of Lancaster. Through shady business practices and unethical behavior they have taken our cities healthcare hostage. We stood up to their corporate greed and showed them that we are watching, that we are aware of their dealings. I take this fight very personal because I have received “care” there and it was sub par to say the best. I’m tired of our community having to deal with their greed and corruption. A hospital is supposed to be a safe haven and a place of healing. They’ve turned it into a for profit business where the most vulnerable of us are being used. I was proud to stand up to them and speak out against this travesty they have become. I was proud to stand with my brothers and sisters against corporate greed and I’m looking forward to fighting in the future for the healthcare rights we all need and deserve.
-Matthew Rosing, Co-Coordinator of the Lancaster HRC, PPF-PA