FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When Direct Action Gets the Goods

Chicago.

The muzak track on Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s main phone line boosts the health care behemoth’s transplant program – including “one of the largest living donor kidney transplant programs in the country.” But those services – which include one of the only liver transplant programs in the region – might as well be on another planet for the undocumented and uninsured.

This weekend, more than a dozen critically ill undocumented immigrants in need of organ transplants struck back, taking a six-day-old hunger strike to the doors of one of the nation’s wealthiest healthcare non-profits to demand a meeting with Northwestern Memorial CEO Dean Harrison. Harrison, who earned almost $10 million in 2010, heads up a system of hospitals, clinics and medical practices – including flagship facility Northwestern Memorial Hospital – earned $1.7 billion last year.

The ultimatum Northwestern faced from the protesters was simple: We will not leave — we are fighting for our lives.

On Monday evening, after an avalanche of terrible press that humanized the dire trick bag that undocumented people in need of transplants confront in Chicago, and with no end in sight to the encampment of sick people outside their doors, Northwestern blinked. Hospital officials announced that undocumented patients will be added to their transplant list. Organizers and patients have vowed to return if Northwestern reneges.

Northwestern has drawn a barrage of criticism over the years for failing to put the ‘non’ in non-profit. The system’s new women’s hospital briefly lost its non-profit exemption from the State of Illinois in 2011 for spending less than 2% of its vast revenue on free care for poor people. But Northwestern is hardly the only tax-exempt non-profit hospital to fail to include the poor in their idea of charity – in 1996, a 15-month Senate review found that nonprofit hospitals routinely overcharge or deny care to the poorest patients in their orbit.

And Northwestern has tendered a huge caveat in its offer to the hunger strikers: prospective transplant patients, regardless of immigration status, still need to show they can pony up the money for anti-rejection drugs in the wake of a transplant. Those medications can cost $20,000 a year or more – less than a third of what dialysis costs – and with the undocumented denied the option of coverage under Obamacare, these patients could very well be compelled to pay those costs out of pocket.

The dilemma of the hunger strikers underscores one of the larger lunacies in the U.S. healthcare system: the federal government will pay for a lifetime of dialysis for a person without papers, at a cost of $75,000 a year, but will not fund a $100,000 transplant that would make that dialysis unnecessary.

The real flashpoint here is, of course, class. If you’re working class, as most of these immigrants – and increasingly, most of the rest of us – are, the prevailing system of transplant protocols and the larger national dynamics around immigration and health care policy are pretty much guaranteed to screw you.

Undocumented and uninsured patients seeking medical care will find no relief in Obamacare, which bails out the health care industrial complex while barring the undocumented from accessing the insurance company bailout scheme. Nor will these sick people find any relief in current versions of immigration ‘reform’ legislation, which accommodate companies who seek access to ‘documented’ high-tech workers but leave millions of people currently without papers with a difficult and uncertain path to legal status in the United States.

One in five organs used in U.S. transplant programs like Northwestern’s come from uninsured people, while barely 1% of those organs go to uninsured people who need them.People without documents are estimated conservatively to donate organs at more than three times the rate they receive them. And for people without documents, even having health insurance is no guarantee that you’ll get a lifesaving transplant if you lack legal standing as an immigrant. Those kinds of inequities are A-OK with anti-immigrant legislators like U.S. Representative Dana T. Rohrabacher of California, who has said of immigrants, “If they’re dead, I don’t have an objection to their organs being used. If they’re alive, they shouldn’t be here no matter what.”

Obama apologists will be tempted to jump on Rohrabacher’s repulsive remarks to blame Republicans for the challenges that poor people, including immigrants without documents, confront in the nation’s healthcare system. But that’s bullcrap. Recall that Obama moved last year to enshrine this country’s miserable treatment of undocumented youth as official policy with his “Dream Act” executive order, which lets youth without papers fight and die in this nation’s imperial wars or take on the increasingly enormous economic burden of higher education in exchange for a two-year deferment to deportation — but denies them or their family members a clear path to legal status. Meanwhile, Republicans are actively floating a scheme to directly trade legal status for military service – a scheme that at least some Democrats can be expected to embrace.

The hunger strikers and their supporters, who range from local minister Jose Landaverde and the Moratorium on Deportations Campaign to the press crew that grew out of Occupy Chicago, have more than Northwestern in their sites. The University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, Rush University Medical Center and Advocate Christ Medical Center are among their tick list of local non-profit health care institutions who need to pony up what their civic missions all purport to support: health care for those who need it. But until labor is afforded the same freedom to cross borders as capital, and until health care is treated as a right instead of a privilege for the wealthy few, the health and wellbeing of these poor workers and their families remain at grave risk.

Meanwhile, the poor, critically ill immigrants in Chicago who staged the hunger strike at Northwestern have embraced one salient historical truth and one path forward: direct action gets the goods – and they will step up that direct action until they win the right to survive and thrive or die trying. Volunteers with the Moratorium on Deportations Campaign put it this way: “This is a struggle to confront two racist and unjust systems that are intimately connected: immigration policy and health care – this is a struggle for life, in the face of a politics of death.”

Chris Geovanis is a member of the HammerHard MediaWorks collective. She can be reached at chrisgeovanis@gmail.com.

More information about the hunger strikers can be found here: www.tinyurl.com/strike4care | www.tinyurl.com/strike4health | www.moratoriumondeportations.org

 

More articles by:

Chris Geovanis is a Chicago media activist, advocacy journalist and member of the HammerHard MediaWorks collective. You can reach her via Twitter @heavyseas, via her Facebook page or at chrisgeovanis(at)gmail.com

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail