Compassion and Leadership
A Christian President?
Such signs say far more about the persons holding them than they do about their intended target. Expressing God’s love in ways these people and I can both agree on is a difficult challenge, because it requires that I be just as open to being changed by that love as I hope they will be. It would be far easier, and less challenging to my own peace of mind, to simply shut the door to relationship by dismissing such people as not worth listening to – which is what those signs are attempting to do in terms of their bearers’ relationship with me – and our President – after all…
Like you, I’ve seen signs like this posted by relatively conservative groups and individuals on social media and elsewhere. While I understand the impetus behind such signs, that I understand does not imply that I agree with them – far from it!
For one thing, we must remember that our President IS a Christian. Until shortly before his election to the Presidency, he and his entire family regularly attended worship at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, one of the largest and most dynamic churches within my own denomination. In fact, more than a quarter of a century ago, our future President made a conscious decision to become a Christian when he joined that church after being, as he put it, a “religious skeptic” for many years. (One should also note that Trinity Church’s motto is “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian.” …And as an organization serving a community deeply and continuously affected by racism and injustice in this society, how can their motto be otherwise?)
Now, I am a Minister in the tradition of the United Church of Christ (UCC), and for over three centuries members of my family and our ancestors have been faithful members of a church that is now part of this same Protestant Denomination that Barack Obama chose to become a member of at age 26. Obama is one of three presidents who were affiliated with this same religious tradition that the UCC descends from (Congregationalism) at some point in their lives. So, I see signs such as this being evidence that their bearer does not believe I am a Christian, either.
The Israeli Palestinian Conflict, A Call for Hope and Healing
Aziz is a warm, thoughtful, energetic man of peace whom I had the pleasure to get to know last year when I had the opportunity to tour Israel and Palestine (through a tourism company he helped establish named MEJDI), and hear the narratives of individuals on both sides of the wall that divides them, a wall not just of concrete and barbed wire, but a wall of shared misperception, mistrust, hate, pain and even greed. If all that can be shared, why not also share healing and hope?
I urge you to read his words carefully and prayerfully, and hear the heart of a man who, even though a victim of great oppression and injustice in the land of his birth, loves all the peoples in that part of the world and earnestly desires peace and healing for those on both sides of the wall.
A Moderate Political Manifesto
I recently heard a Republican voter state in a radio interview that her primary goal is to “get rid of Obama”. This same statement can be heard out of the mouths of many other Republicans – voters, candidates and power brokers alike.
Yet, there seems to be a strong move within the Republican Party based on the premise that ideological purity is what is needed to carry the day and put America back on the right track. An approach identical to that which the Republican Party adopted in 1964 when they nominated Barry Goldwater to oppose Lyndon Johnson, and which worked so well for them.
It would seem to me that our Republican friends, if they are serious about making Obama a one term president, would be seriously considering a middle of the road candidate, one who would appeal to independent and moderate voters. Yet, candidates who might appeal to moderate voters – such as Jon Huntsman and perhaps Mitt Romney – are gaining little traction with those likely to vote in the primaries. Perhaps this is why there has been so much interest by Republican power brokers to find another candidate, such as Gov. Chris Christie.
Personally, I am totally fed up with the politics in Washington. While I think Obama had (and has) a lot of promise, he has shown himself to be ineffective as a leader, and has made some unforgivably huge gaffes, such as the recent tiff with John Boehner over when to schedule a Obama’s presidential address announcing the latest jobs bill. A simple phone call would have gone a long way towards preventing such an embarrassing incident, and would have also at least provided some hope that the bill would be seriously considered by the Republican leadership in the House.
So, you’d think that the Republican Party would recognize that they have an opportunity to capture those many voters who are as disenchanted as I am. It seems not. Candidates like Herman Cain, and the antics of the Republican leadership in both the House and Senate over the last couple of years, lead one to wonder whether the Republican Party will focus so much on ideological purity that the concerns of the majority of Americans will simply be ignored. — It seems they believe that their way is “right” and competing views are to be given no credence at all – I won’t draw parallels between this and the way other regimes have governed, but one can say in general that those who govern with such attitudes are not remembered with fondness, nor are their administrations considered successful.
So, will I support the Democratic Party in 2012? No. The Democrats are as bad as the Republicans – think of how Nancy Pelosi handled the House when she was Speaker. But, I won’t be supporting the Republicans, either. Instead, I’ll be looking for someone who really cares about the “little guy” and who knows that those who are unemployed, have seen their standard of living decline over the past decade, have huge medical and insurance bills, are facing losing their home, have burdensome college debt, are seeing their business or jobs threatened due to unfair competition from foreign manufacturers or unreasonable government regulations, face an an unfair tax burden, or have their kids attending failing schools, need to be heard. We need a candidate who is pragmatic and doesn’t adopt extreme (climate change is a fantasy!!) inflexible (no new taxes!!) or ill-considered (don’t infringe on people’s right to carry automatic weapons!!) positions. We need someone who understands that they and their party do not have all the answers, probably don’t even ask all the right questions, and believes it is critical to put the best interests of the nation ahead of ideological purity and political advantage.
So, who will I support and send donations to this coming year? Not any of the national political organizations, nor any special interest group campaigning on a single issue. — And I am boycotting companies and organizations that do. Instead, I’ll put my money, and my votes, behind those who have shown they are committed to the principles I state here, and who do not have a vested interest in maintaining the combative and dysfunctional environment in Washington (and in many state governments as well).
Copyright (c) 2011, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).
Thoughts on the Healthcare Debate
I have many years of experience in the IT side of the healthcare industry, having worked for ten years at a major medical center (the Mayo Clinic) renowned for its efficient and high quality healthcare system. I also worked nearly three years for a major nonprofit that provided healthcare (and other support) to those in need, worked for three years in support of the Veterans’ Health Administration, worked with the Red Cross and UNICEF while Director of IT at a company that provided services to nonprofits, and worked for a year or so as a contractor supporting a small company in the medical insurance industry.
I’ve also dealt with the challenges of attempting to provide healthcare for myself and my family as a self employed, underemployed and unemployed person. Finally, in my current status as a student working towards ordination, I am constantly meeting and working with those who are underserved, if they are served at all, by our current healthcare system.
In other words, I’ve seen many aspects of our current medical system, and its’ evolution over the last 20 years or so, from the “inside” – working closely with Physicians, Nurses, Technicians and other support personnel; as well as from the “outside” as a person looking for affordable and reasonably good quality healthcare services and insurance.
Let’s start with the obvious: the current system is evolving in an unsustainable direction, of providing high quality healthcare to fewer and fewer people, with costs rising at a rate that significantly exceeds inflation, meaning that we pay more and more each year while getting less and less for each dollar we spend. In other words, it’s broken, and it will get worse, much worse, in the foreseeable future.
That good quality healthcare at a reasonable cost can be achieved is a certainty: the Mayo Clinic does so by providing highly centralized, well integrated services to its patients, supported by sophisticated manual and automated systems that ensure that each and every physician seeing a patient has accurate and timely information when they need it, and that every patient is able to rapidly get all of the tests and procedures they need for a correct diagnosis, followed by a course of treatment that works hard to take into account all of the complexities presented by the patient’s medical history and condition. No wonder Mayo is rated as the best place to go for treatment of complex cases involving multiple disease processes.
What’s really astounding is that Mayo does all this for a cost much less than most other medical practices can achieve. This is due not only to the volume of patients Mayo sees, but also due to Mayo’s sustained (nearly century-long) effort to integrate and standardize medical care while ensuring a consistently high level of care and quality across every medical discipline in the practice.
There has been much talk of how the implementation of databases for patient medical records and the building of interfaces to allow such databases to talk to each other will be a “golden bullet” for high quality medical care. I’ll agree, as one who played a significant role in the building of such systems at Mayo, that such systems are needed. But, let’s not forget that Mayo built such systems itself primarily due to their need to share medical information and test results rapidly, if not simultaneously, among multiple healthcare professionals. Paper-based mechanisms to store and share such information, and ensure its consistency and quality, had already been in place at Mayo for decades. The business case for the expense of such automation was built on the need to speed access and to handle the ever increasing volume of such information. The quality of the data, and the quality of the care itself, was already there.
In other words, automation is a great tool in healthcare: one that can provide great benefits, but an infrastructure that can take advantage of such high quality information must be in place, too. That requires the creation of business processes to acquire, manage and utilize such information. It means rethinking how medical practices (hospitals, labs, doctors, insurers, and other healthcare professionals, services or organizations) are managed internally, how they interact with each other, how they are regulated, and how they are compensated for their efforts.
It is not a small task. It cannot be done piecemeal, and we cannot afford to avoid the challenge of doing so any longer: if you want to have a healthcare system that can meet your needs ten or twenty years from now, then we need to begin to make such changes now, as it will take years to implement such changes across thousands of medical institutions, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of healthcare professionals, and within every government agency, hundreds of insurers, and thousands of companies that are involved in every aspect of healthcare.
The changes also impact our schools, which need to train not only new healthcare professionals, and retraining many of those already in the field, but also ensure the correct mix of skills are being taught – not just in terms of ensuring enough Primary Care physicians are there, but training thousands of new administrators skilled in managing to ensure high quality, or skilled in integrating systems and practices: not skilled just in generating maximum profits for their employers.
The system cannot fix itself. Only external pressure can redirect current trends into a more constructive direction. Any person with knowledge of business ethics will tell you that a company that ignores or avoids social responsiblity for its actions will always be able to provide services cheaper than those that do seek to be socially responsible: just as it’s always cheaper to dump raw sewage and chemical waste into a river than it is to clean it up.
In terms of healthcare, it is always cheaper and more profitable to squeeze those individuals out of the system who are likely to incur greater healthcare costs. This includes the elderly, those with chronic medical conditions, or anyone with an increased risk of becoming ill. We see this in the ever increasing list of “pre-existing medical conditions” that are not covered by insurers.
On the other hand, as insurance costs increase, it becomes more and more desirable for those of us who are healthy to simply avoid buying insurance. We put off doing so as long as possible, and only buy insurance when we get older, and/or think we’re likely to need it. This is a major problem because it means we are not paying into the system: we’re expecting the money to somehow magically be there when we need it ten or twenty years from now, even though we have not put anything into the “bank” for our own future medical care.
Who then is paying? We are: those who do have insurance have to foot the bill, either in terms of paying more for insurance (to cover for those who refuse to pay into the system, or who cannot afford insurance to begin with), and the escalation of costs at hospitals due to the need to pay for expensive emergency room care for those without insurance.
Every aspect of the healthcare industry is facing greater and greater challenges every day because of the current situation. Insurance companies have to cope with an unbalanced pool of “customers” for their services and have to cope with competitors who seek to increase profits by reducing costs through reduced insurance coverage in their policies, excluding more potentially costly clients, and finding new ways to avoid or delay payment for covered services. Hospitals have to deal with increasing malpractice and emergency room costs. Doctors are avoiding critical professions (such as obstetrics and pediatric care) due to the high costs of malpractice insurance.
We all feel the impact of overall inefficiencies of the system due to inadequate and management and sharing of healthcare information among (and even within) healthcare organizations and individuals. We all pay for payment practices that encourage volume over quality, and for insurance rates that discourage or prevent many from getting insurance at all (which simply raises costs for everyone else).
We have vicious circle after vicious circle – an ever escalating mess that can only get worse, and which will rapidly escalate with each passing year: like the compound interest on an overdue credit card bill.
Those who think they are safe from loss of benefits or “rationing” of healthcare in the future are kidding themselves. Within the lifetimes of most of those reading this, we are likely to see a situation where only the extremely wealthy will be able to afford decent quality healthcare — assuming the entire system doesn’t collapse well before then.
President Obama’s speech before the joint houses of Congress earlier this week certainly contained suggestions for healthcare reform that not everyone agrees with. (Even I, a [relatively] Liberal Democrat, don’t agree with all of his suggestions!)
Yet, he had a critical message that we must all take seriously: the overhyped and overheated posturing we’ve seen from both liberals and conservatives must stop. If the attempts that we’ve seen to derail reform through ridiculously overblown rhetoric succeed, then we will all lose. No matter how good your healthcare is at present, the course we are on as a nation will inevitably turn all of us into “losers” if changes are not made. A debate that is reasoned and constructive, one where moderation and respect are the order of the day for everyone at the table, is the only way that our healthcare system can be reformed.
As Obama has said, the status quo is not an option: if you don’t like the proposals on the table, then provide an alternative and back it up with facts. Those who work to destroy the opposition’s position in a game where political “points” are all that matter are being irresponsible and playing with fire: they are putting everyone at risk, including themselves. If they succeed in derailing healthcare reform, it will be a Pyrrhic victory: one where they will be called upon to pay the price for their irresponsible actions far sooner than they can imagine.
Copyright (c) 2009, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via a credit that mentions my name or provides a link back to this site).