Brattleboro Demands Healthcare!

Citizens Testify on Healthcare Crisis/Demand Reform

Staff Writer

Catamount Tavern News Service, Brattleboro, VT. It is estimated that 11% of our population is without health insurance, and many tens of thousands more who are insured are struggling to finance skyrocketing premiums, and co-pays. On the evening of September 25th the Vermont Workers Center held its first of a series of public hearings on the issue of healthcare at the St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Brattleboro. And based on the testimony of many citizens, Brattleboro wants healthcare for all.  

     The Workers Center, itself a coalition of labor unions and community organizations representing over 25,000 working Vermonters, is seeking to engage the public in the healthcare debate. Besides the public hearing in Brattleboro, others are being planned for the Northeast Kingdom, Barre, Rutland, & Burlington. The Workers Center openly advocates on behalf of common Vermonters, who they say have a basic human right to healthcare. And since last May 1st, volunteers and allies of the Center have been on the streets of most the larger towns and on many job sites asking folk to fill out a survey about their experience with healthcare. They are on pace to have over 1500 done by December, and are planning a healthcare convention at UVM in Burlington on December 13th where their finding will be unveiled. 

     The Brattleboro hearing, co-sponsored by Vermont the Citizens Campaign For Health organization & the Child Labor Education and Action group, had more than 50 local people attendance.  Those assembled gave testimony about their experiences with healthcare to a listening panel composed of Bonnie Chase, RN,  Nurses Union President at the Brattleboro Retreat, Kathleen Clark, RN, Vice President of the Brattleboro Federation of Nurses at the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Daniel Herlocker, RN, also a union member at the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, the Reverend Lise Sparrow, minister at the Guilford Community Church, Rosa Palmeri of Child Labor Education & Action, and Dianne Champion Brattleboro District Director of the Vermont Department of Health.

     One of the first Vermonters to speak was Nancy Hodecker. She told the panel that her husband had to have his tongue cut out, and soon after died, because he did not have health insurance. He first noticed a small sore on his tongue. But since he did not have health insurance and because money was tight, he resisted going to a doctor for four months. It turned out that he had developed class four cancer.

     Dwayne Young, a local logger, testified that it is ironic how he has one of the most dangerous jobs around, but since he is insured while on the job, he doesn’t worry about it. What scares him is the thought of something happening out on the streets, out of the woods where, until recently, he was not insured. Young explained that he recently signed up for Catamount Health.

     Besides Nancy and Dwayne, many Vermonters talked about the problems poor & working people face with the current healthcare system, about experiencing discrimination for having Medicaid/Medicare, about undue burdens of paperwork and bureaucracy, about being hard working people and still not being able to afford medical treatment.

     The final person to present testimony was Leah Swanson. Leah, a Brattleboro High School senior, read a moving letter to the panel from a local woman who wished to remain anonymous. The letter recalled in chilling detail how she was compelled to stay in a relationship with a man who beat her so that her 6 year old daughter could continue having life saving treatments for her cancer. Although the abusive husband was also the little girl’s father, he told his wife that if she left he would cancel his family healthcare plan; this would be akin to a death sentence for the child. The battered mother, in the shadow of 7 recurrences of the child’s cancer, stayed in this nightmarish relationship for 22 years.

     The time has come to provide some relief for victims of domestic violence.  If that one hurdle of the health insurance had not been placed in my way, I not only could have gotten my child through her cancer treatments, but she would not have been subject to all those added years of having to witness domestic violence, Leah read.

     The testimony concluded with, Somehow, someway, we must gather enough support to provide health coverage for everyone so that stories like mine never happen again.  You have the capability to do something about this.  Please don’t turn away.

     The overall message of the evening was that Vermont has many good reasons, both moral and economic, to establish a universal single-payer healthcare system whereby every Vermonter can get the medical treatment they need.

     The hearings were brought to a close by James Haslam, Director of the Vermont Workers Center. Mr. Haslam called healthcare a human right and declared that these hearings would be held all across the state, culminating in the healthcare convention at UVM. According to Haslam, the Workers Center is seeking to change the political discourse across the Green Mountains whereby what is right becomes what is possible not the other way around; i.e. healthcare for all. The Vermont Workers Center is also planning, what they hope will be, a massive demonstration in the Capital, Montpelier, on May 1st, 2009 in support of single-payer healthcare. In collusion with the demonstration the Center is calling on all working Vermonters, both union and nonunion, to Call In Sick on that day, and for small independent businesses to voluntarily close down. To date this campaign has been endorsed by the Vermont AFL-CIO and the socialist Vermont Liberty Union Party. It is expected that other unions, community organizations, and political parties will follow suit in the coming months.   

*For more information on the Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign & the Vermont Workers Center look them up on the web at:

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