(Interview 5/2011. Oil on linen, 40 ins. x 30 ins.)
When I reached out to Bette for an update, she told me "It's time to let folks know I'm no longer anonymous." Bette is 62 now. She has a debilitating, painful disease that qualifies her for disability benefits. This also means she qualifies for Medicare, a federally funded insurance program. Medicare coverage is a relief. Bette is able to see her doctors without feeling stressed.
Through her personal suffering, Bette has still managed to help her community. (See Bette's statement below). Most of her contributions are unpaid. Bette has seen a lot."I probably could write another book as an update," she told me. "We still can't get it right in this country when it comes to equal healthcare."
Individuals often feel they are alone. Good people judge themselves when they think they are somehow manipulating the system to get the medical care they need. They hide.
In 2004 Bette needed medical attention that could cost about $25,000. She found a way to get the care she needed. When I painted this portrait Bette felt her story was sensitive given her position as the director of a free clinic.. She did not want her identity known. 18 years later, experience and time have made the facts of her story unremarkable -- commonplace would be the word. Too many uninsured people have finagled healthcare out of a system that would let them die.
There were almost 46 million uninsured people in the US in 2004. Bette's anxiety joined the chorus of many millions desperate for care. My educated guess based on research and the 14 years I've been listening to healthcare horror stories is that most of the medically needy uninsured believed they were were drowning in their own private lake. They did not know they were one of millions weighted down in one grotesque ocean swallowing their despair to feed the for-profit healthcare sector. Sick people are not profitable. The for-profit entities did not serve medically needy people if they did not have to.
Bette Grey is a licensed respiratory therapist in the state of PA. As a healthcare professional, she has dealt with multiple folks who lacked access to the basic respiratory medications that would keep them from an inpatient stay as well as an ER visit. In 2004 she found herself in the same shoes as the patients she cared for. Bette was bleeding to death with a 7.5 hemoglobin and dropping. She needed a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding. All of this led to her founding a free clinic, which she opened in 2007. Bette planned for 3 years to make her vision a reality. She remained director of the clinic until 2015.
Artist's Note (2011)
Bette describes the free clinic. "The clinic serves a predominately working population who do not have access to health care. It is staffed mostly by volunteers."
Bette points out that free clinics are not free. The staff scrambles for funding from private donations and state grants. "The clinic attempts to keep people well and able so they to provide for their families and themselves. The most important mantra of the clinic is that DEATH should not ever be the FIRST option because a patient lacks access to healthcare or the ability to pay for it. The patients served are those who find themselves in the chasm of making too much money for government subsidies, not having enough work hours to pay for medical coverage, and not enough funds to pay for premiums, deductibles, and co-pays because of minimal wages."
(from a 2011 interview)
Medical Clinic Director, Suffered Medical Emergency at age 47 While Uninsured, Age 51 (now insured through husband's job)
Bette was insured on husband's health plan while she worked part-time in a hospital. Then he lost his job and with it his health insurance benefits. Half the US population has their health insurance coverage linked to employment.
Bette needed a procedure 3 months before her husband lost his job of 23 years. She was still covered under her husband's policy. She was able to get treatment for menorrhagia, heavy menstrual bleeding.
But Bette would soon need a hysterectomy. When her husband lost his job, he and Bette also lost health coverage linked to his former employment. Bette needed $20,000 - $30,000 to pay for the operation. She and her husband considered asking friends for a loan.
Bette told her hospital employer that she needed to take a 6-8 week leave from her part-time job. When she told them why, the hospital offered to put her on the hospital insurance plan,
the reason being a life-changing event -- job loss. Bette paid the premium for 2 months, During that time she was able to get her surgery. But paying the premium was a struggle. Bette and her husband could not afford it. They dropped the insurance.
Bette's husband got a new job with health benefits but there was a 90 day waiting period before the coverage started. Bette, her children and husband were once again uninsured for a brief stretch during the waiting period.
When uninsured Bette walked into her physician's office -- something she had done for 17 years -- the office staff's usually friendly demeanor turned cold. She explained to them that she had no insurance. From that point on Bette relied on luck and grace that no medical emergencies would happen during waiting period (and they didn't).
Here is a statement from Bette:
"From 2015 to today, I provided private patient advocacy for many folks in my community. I helped folks get sooner medical appointments; enrolled folks into the insurance marketplace; helped folks with getting their medications; wrote multiple op-eds for the local papers; talked to college students; talked to graduate level nursing students utilizing my book as the central theme for the conversation; worked with school districts to get students Medicaid; coordinated the start of a pilot, transportation with a large healthcare system which has proved successful over the last few years; coordinated a VA transportation program; did a lot of dot-connecting with folks in the healthcare system where there are gaps in care, etc. I was just asked to be on the local County Aging board--lots of issues with aging including the Governor's hell-bent attitude that a national company should be the driver of caregivers' help--he has appointed Maximus as the company that has no idea how folks in local counties interact (I really like Tom Wolf, but he is getting this all wrong with regards to a clearinghouse and he doesn't seem to be listening to anyone!).
I advocated for Covid policies like mask-wearing, hand-washing, and distancing.
I served on the Board of Osteopathic Medicine for the state of PA.
I recently asked for Covid dollars from my borough council, they granted me $20,000 to get employees from Berwick to their jobs. I have partnered with Enterprise to bring van pools locally; helped folks with the Respironics-Philips CPAP recall.