Monday, August 31, 2009

Painting For Health Care

"We need a societal shift in thinking and feeling. We need people to care about others. We have to turn people around. And I'm hopeful that my story will do it, because look at me. I don't have a job right now, other than I teach part-time art, but I'm out there. I'm working on it." Regina Holliday, health care reform activist and widow.

Regina Holliday, a 37-year-old widow, part-time art teacher and mother of two, has become a media darling in recent weeks, written about, photographed and filmed by countless journalists. The reason is her story, energy and a colorful mural she is working on in Washington, D.C., at the back of a gas station, across from a pharmacy, not too far from an independent bookstore. In paint on the six-meter high wall, she is recounting her husband's death within the U.S. medical system. He died June 17, 2009, the same day the U.S. Senate started debating health care reform.

Her husband was sent home to die of kidney cancer after doctors refused to try more tests or chemotherapy. For years, he didn't have health insurance, so he didn't take the tests that might have given him an early detection of what was causing his bloody urine and night sweats.

Holliday’s mural has a doctor standing in waste, which symbolizes inefficiency in helping sick people. Another doctor seems annoyed, moving away from his patient, talking aggressively on his cell phone. A nurse types into a computer, but the screen is dark, representing a "loop of information" going nowhere. Data is not transfered from one health center to another. In this artistic rendition, health care is not something that is for patients, it seems to be a money-making, cold monster -- a place where information is not used to help the sick get better, but rather it is compartmentalized to keep costs at high levels and avoid any lawsuits.

Holliday has painted quotes to inspire and engage from Thomas Jefferson to Harry Potter, saying in ways old and new there is a difference between what is right and what is easy.

A girl dressed in the American stars and stripes flag has her legs covered with welts, and a switch to whip her lying at her feet. Holliday says she represents an abuse victim, who thinks she doesn't want change, because she has been conditioned to be afraid.

Holliday was abused for 17 years growing up in her home. Her husband was a victim of poor health, and a society that leaves some of its sick behind. But now she says she is fighting back, with her ladder, paints and brushes.

She believes a government-run health insurance plan can help people like her who don't have a full-time job and benefits. She believes in the long-run it could become better for patients and more efficient than what is currently in place. Her views, of course, are hotly contested by some engaged in the current debate, in which there are many ideas, and many fears of rising costs, less incentive for market-driven innovation and more bureaucracy.

This television report by Carol Pearson shows how one company, grocery giant Safeway, allows employees who work on being healthier to pay less for their private insurance plan.