This was written November 14th
My first awareness of the "Eye on the B.I." advertising campaign, if that is what it should be called, resulted from those little billboard trucks driving around the hospital itself. I saw them as I was leaving an appointment at the Shapiro Center. I don't know about you but to me those trucks look so much like tonka toys that I didn't do much but laugh. a few weeks later , however I noticed one outside Backbay Station which cast aspersions on the Beth Israel Emergency Room "the most expensive emergency room for medicare patients ( curious syntax- for the patients?) This in particular set me off because I know full well why the BI's emergency room is expensive; it is expensive because they will not turn anyone away, and will treat and care for anyone whether or not they have the means to pay. I know this from my own experience with AIDS and will give a brief account of the debt of gratitude I owe the "B.I." But first I want to ask a few question about this campaign.
Based only on the billboards I could not for the life of me figure out what the agenda behind them is. It may be that at the root there is some issue that could be discussed productively, but what is clear is that whoever is running this campaign is keeping their agenda very obscure in the face of the public and my first question is to wonder, during this anniversary time of Kristallnact whether there isn't some veiled anti-semitism behind this campaign. perhaps you think my question is extreme, or paranoid? Let me tell you that I am an Episcopalian of Irish heritage, and I ask this based solely on what I observe in the signs. It is fair to ask why I should question this- these are my reasons;
The billboards I have seen cast aspersions on the hospital that I know to be false and inappropriate from my personal experience. After some exploration I discover that this is an attempt to unionize the hospital, but the advertising does not say anything obvious about that issue. Questions such as who it is that wants to unionize, what group they represent, what ills might result from the lack of unions, or what dialogue is taking place between the unions and the hospital administration are not raised by the advertising. Instead it tells us that the hospital makes mistakes in their medicare accounting, some of which I am sure happened while they were trying to keep me alive- and note that they only mention mistakes in the hospital's favor which gives the impression that the mistakes are deliberate; and tells us how wildly expensive the emergency room is (?? is unionizing going to make it less so??) Perhaps there are others I haven't seen.
I can see no constructive agenda which approaches the issue of unionization, and as an observer on the street I don't even know who is making these accusations or why. Add to these facts that it is only the "Jewish" hospital that is being targeted and the only conclusion i can draw is that even if this group is trying to accomplish something valid it is playing subtly on age old prejudices about Jews and money rather than presenting their position in a cogent and fair manner. This is very destructive and insults the good intentions of labor as a movement in general- a movement deeply indebted to Jews, by the way.
Why does all this matter to me? Because I, Irish Christian that I am, have been a patient at Beth Israel for years. First under the care of Dr. Hamaway at Deaconess, and then, after the merger, and by a very fortunate stroke of Fate, with Dr Rafael Campo and Dr. Elisa Choi, at Health Care Associates at the Shapiro Center. I came down with AIDS in 2001, and at the time had Tufts Premium health insurance. By 2003 my partner, Aramis Valverde (AKA Mad Genius)- a cuban catholic- had been unable to work for many months, had not been able to keep up his health insurance, and we found ourselves in a terrifying position. We went to the Beth Israel emergency room hat in hand, and were welcomed, immediately cared for, admitted to the hospital (for the first of three times) and the staff at Beth Israel not only cared for him in a stellar fashion, but they also treated me- who at the time had no legal standing- with a degree of compassion and respect that was truly moving. There was no talk of money and payment, except in this respect, that the hospital's social workers went into high gear to negotiate with Masshealth and Medicare to find what funds they could on Aramis's behalf, but the care they gave him was never contingent upon these efforts- and their message to me was not to worry, whatever the circumstances my partner would have the highest quality care, even if it was at the hospitals expense, and I assure you he did.
In the year following Aramis's death I found myself in the same position. I was too sick to work, lost my insurance and had gone 3 months without my HIV meds. I was starting to have respiratory problems and was terrified. My doctor tracked me down to find out why I missed an appointment and I explained the financial/ health insurance problem. within 5 hours he had me on "The B.I." free care system and I had my prescriptions in hand. shortly after this I was admitted ( the respiratory problems were indeed pneumonia.) The care I received as a "Free Care" patient was identical to what I had received as a Tufts Premium member, and once again, not only the care, but the respect and compassion that the staff of the hospital extended, and continues to extend to me is truly amazing, not least the social workers who deal with the byzantine with the byzantine labyrinth of the health care system. As one who has had to interface with that system for 4 years now I can tell you it is impossible to figure out, and if the hospital has only made errors on 500,000 dollars worth of billing they must be really good because that system is such a quagmire of conflicting bureaucracies that even the government itself can't keep it straight.
I have personalized this because unlike the folks running the "Eye on the BI campaign" I want you to know exactly what my agenda is. I am a sixty year old Christian who has nursed a partner through through death from AIDS and been saved from the same fate the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center over the last few years. I am angered by the "Eye on the B.I." campaign not just because they attack an institution to which I owe my life, but because they are doing it in an underhanded, destructive, and malicious way.