I had the unfortunate experience of having to visit an elderly relative in the emergency room this week. My stepmother fainted at home and was rushed to the hospital mid-morning. I immediately began receiving phone calls from my father updating me on her condition. As we spoke during the day it became apparent that her condition, fortunately, was stable and improving, yet my bilingual, very communicative father had no idea when she would be released, if at all. The situation at the hospital sounded chaotic, so after picking my daughter up from school, I trekked north to get a hold on the situation.
From the moment I arrived at the emergency room, it became apparent the facilities, environment and attitude of the staff were far less than acceptable. For the most part, the nurses were aloof and dismissive. Whoever manages personnel at this medical facility clearly does not understand the needs of the demographic the hospital serves. The overwhelming majority of the patients were elderly Hispanics — yet in the two hours I was there only one nurse on the floor spoke Spanish.
Every time I approached the nurses’ station I wondered whether I was in an emergency room or a birthday party. Many of the staff (not just the nurses) were cutting jokes and yukking it up, while on gurneys not more than 10 feet away people were writhing in pain as worried relatives desperately waited for their loved one to be comforted and cared for.
I understand that working in an emergency room is a stressful vocation and that sometimes you have to laugh not to cry. However, I suggest that laughing loudly in the middle of an emergency medical center is not the most sensitive or professional thing to do. Have all of society’s standards evaporated? I’ve never seen this type of behavior and environment at the healthcare facilities in the richer parts of town. Are poor, working class people not entitled to the same level of professional treatment?
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This incident was a painful reminder of the most alarming and disheartening statistic in American society — the widening economic gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.” The effects of this economic chasm are clearly reflected in the services (or lack thereof) that poorer residents receive.
A recent Brookings Institute study, focusing on the economic welfare of 50 major U.S. cities, ranked Miami third among those with the widest disparity. The numbers highlight the obliteration of the middle class —leaving in its wake the decaying vestiges of what was once the backbone of this country and this city.
When one speaks about disparate wealth distribution it is usually challenged by a lame comment regarding socialism or, worse yet, communism — fundamentally un-American principles. However, what is more un-American than the destruction of the middle class that has steadily led to the formation of a reprehensible, economic caste system.
Possibility still abounds in America. The challenge is how to even the scales of probabilities for Americans (who were not born with a trust fund) to attain certain possibilities — this includes receiving a certain standard of service, particularly in areas as important as healthcare.
After a seemingly endless wait with my frustrated stepmother, I was able to speak to the attending physician.
He offered no apology for the wait or inconvenience. He was curt and off-putting, but I bit my tongue because we were at his mercy in this awful setting.
In the middle of uttering his follow-up instructions to my stepmom and me, he suddenly and inexplicably turned away to speak to a joking orderly. When I insisted he come back to us and finish his evaluation, he sarcastically replied, “I’m a little busy.”
He was indeed too busy, too busy to provide care to those who don’t have the means or the voice with which to protest.