Faces, Not Numbers: Thoughts about Governor Pawlenty's Proposed Healthcare Cuts

For the vast majority of Minnesotans, Governor Pawlenty's proposed cuts to healthcare are little more than abstractions. When we listen to experts trying to convince us one way or another, we are inundated with statistics that just add to these abstractions. They lead us to think about spreadsheets, not people, about numbers, not faces. Budget cuts to human services are so much easier to imagine when the actual peoples' lives are taken out of the equation.

I live with a disability. I am paralyzed from the chest down and have used wheelchair for the last thirty years. I have also founded the non-profit Mind Body Solutions. We help people transform trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential by awakening the connection between mind and body. We develop products and programs for people living with disabilities that emphasize a mind-body approach to healing and recovery. We also develop mind-body programs for families, caregivers, and healthcare professionals. Our non-profit offers some of our programs through the Courage Center, a transitional rehabilitation provider with multiple campuses throughout Minnesota.

I tell you this because I see firsthand the people that will be affected by these cuts. I talk to these people, put my hands on these people, and, most of all, I witness them navigate the complexities of living with disabilities. I am not saying this to gripe. I am saying this to help you access what's really happening in these people's lives. Let me be clear. We cannot fix these people…that is not what they need and that is not our role as taxpayers. Our role is to give them a chance to help themselves, to give them the chance to live a life that will not result in them getting progressively worse. Make no mistake about it: when these people do not succeed in their lives, we will end up paying for it. We will spend significantly more money on the backend of this problem.

There are many things to complain about in these proposed cuts. But two things are literally unfathomable to me. My understanding of the proposed cuts is that it would completely eliminate physical, occupational, speech and audiology therapies for all public health insurance programs for adults in need of rehabilitation. So imagine someone you know suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Let's say a drunk driver ran this person over by running a stop sign. TBIs often result in cognitive losses, including speech, and also physical impairment, usually more on one side of the body. Imagine further this person is one of the millions of people that cannot afford private health insurance. This person has no experience with such an injury and no idea of what living with such a condition will entail. Can you imagine not teaching this person how to cope and live with his or her new condition? These are the skills that people learn in the different therapies listed above. This is the knowledge that the families surrounding these injured people gain in those therapies. Do you know what happens when someone goes home from the hospital wholly unprepared to deal with their life change? It's simple: They get worse.

The other cut that I cannot fathom is the elimination of access to personal care attendants (PCAs) for 2100 people. PCAs help people transfer out of their wheelchairs and into bed; they help people shower and go to the bathroom and roll over in bed at night so they do not get pressure sores and on and on. For example, I have a student in my adaptive yoga class who is a high level quadriplegic, meaning he has limited mobility and strength in his arms, no finger dexterity, and no movement at all in his legs. He has a PCA help him get prepared for bed at night and then another who comes in the morning to help him get out of bed and prepare to go to work. I do not know if he will lose access to his PCA, but I wanted to give you a glimpse of what a PCA does.

I know that you do not have time to sit and observe what goes on at the Courage Center or any other similar facility. But I have. I have seen firsthand the services being cut. I have seen patients go home that are not prepared for the realities that confront them. I have seen this even when these people have received some therapy. I am horror struck when I imagine them having none. I know we need to cut our budget deficit but we have to be smart. We should not make people's lives worse. We should not cut things in the short term that will cost us dearly down the road. We have to see the big picture while caring for the real faces that appear in front of us.

If you know someone who works with people that receive public health insurance and who also live with disabilities, ask them what they think of the proposed cuts. I almost guarantee that they will get a shivy – they will know that the cuts are like watching a car accelerate before it smashes into a brick wall.