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We don't need more education

Jeanne Sager - Columnist
Posted 6/22/20

Let's call the mom Susie. Her son was 3 when her doctor said he would benefit greatly from applied behavioral analysis (ABA), a one-on-one therapy common for kids who have been diagnosed with autism. …

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We don't need more education


Let's call the mom Susie. Her son was 3 when her doctor said he would benefit greatly from applied behavioral analysis (ABA), a one-on-one therapy common for kids who have been diagnosed with autism.

There was just one problem: He hadn't been officially diagnosed with autism, so Sullivan County's intervention services were off limits to her family.

But then the official diagnosis came at age 4. Her son, we'll call him Henry, was autistic. Susie called her insurance company and got the name of the only ABA therapist in network within a drivable distance. All good, right? Susie and Henry have health insurance, good health insurance Susie admits.

But no. The provider told her that in fact he's private and doesn't take insurance like hers. She went back to the insurer, who once again assured her this provider was her only option. Back and forth she bounced. For six months she battled to get her child the services he needed at a time that his body and mind were developing rapidly, at a time when he desperately needed help.

She can never tell just how much he lost in that time of healthcare red tape. She can only hope that he's able to recoup it.

So let's jump to Terri. Her teenager told her she was feeling like she wanted to die. She needed help. Tammy picked up the phone and started calling healthcare providers in Sullivan County. One after another they told her they had no room on their calendar. A suicidal teenager would just have to wait.

Tammy finally found a therapist, or so she thought.

But when Tammy's daughter told the therapist her sexuality, the therapist started laughing. Her already fragile teenager was destroyed.

Tammy called the therapist's office and begged them to reassign her daughter, said it wasn't a healthy fit. The therapist's office never even called her back. She ended up going out of network, spending hundreds of dollars a month that she could ill afford because her child came first.

In the last week I've heard dozens of stories like Susie's and Tammy's. All I did was put out a social media call for healthcare stories in Sullivan County, a call I made after I saw that Sullivan County had been bumped from 61st out of 62 counties in New York to 60th in terms of healthcare outcomes.

We made it, y'all. We're no longer second to last.

And along with it came announcements about commitments to better education.

If only the problem was education.

If only the problem was the patients.

We're not struggling because we're too dumb to know that fast food is bad for us or that we should cut back on the drinking.

We're a county of poor folks — 17.5 percent of us live at or below the poverty line, according to the New York State Annual Poverty Report. That doesn't make us stupid.

When you have people who know exactly what they need and providers who still can't (or refuse to) give it, you can only get so far.

We don't need more awareness campaigns. We don't need more scolding fingers telling us to eat better. We don't need more posters on the wall at the DMV.

We need more providers.

We need better transportation.

We need health insurers to be forced to accommodate rural payers who can only travel so far.

We need providers who are accepting of all.

We need a system that works for all.

Should we celebrate our wins? OK, sure. But let's stop blaming the patients for not being educated enough and start focusing on the broken system that's not serving them in the first place.


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