View from a healthcare town hall meeting

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"There are certain rules we ask our students to follow during assemblies," Dr. Nanciann Gatta, superintendent of Illinois School District 219, said before introducing Rep. Jan Schakowsky's (D-IL) healthcare town hall meeting Monday night.

She knew what she was implying—and so apparently did others in the crowded auditorium who drowned her out with a minute-long round of applause. I had to laugh.

So there I was, attendee at one of these town hall ("town hell" may be more like it) meetings we've heard so much about. Sure, I wanted to hear about the issues, see what my fellow Illinoisans had on their minds. But mostly I wanted to see what it would be like, to watch first-hand as the protesters held up their signs and shouted their slogans, to look on as they were carted off by the local police, stuck in the back of a paddy wagon and taken to the county jail to wait for their harried spouses to come bail them out.

Although there were a fair amount of hot-tempered individuals (such as the man seven seats down from me wearing his fishing hat and angrily chewing a piece of what must have been the most rubbery gum in existence) in the high school north of Chicago, the exchanges were not as crazy as I had imagined they would be. No signs, no slogans, no arrests.

Alas. I'll have to settle for the issues.

Most of the questions were typical fare for these meetings: "How are we going to afford these reforms?" "How can we trust that you're going to do what you say?" "I hear Obama's a socialist. Is he lying to us?" The norm.

One man, however, had a question that piqued my interest. I didn't catch his name (the sound system at the Niles West High School auditorium is, for lack of a better term, abysmal), but I did catch the gist of his question to Schakowsky.

This man works for a local continuing care retirement community, and he took it upon himself to survey 10 of his facility's residents to see what issue they felt was most important. Overwhelmingly, he said, they wanted to know about cuts to Medicare.

It was a typical question with a typical response, nothing out of the ordinary. But it made me curious. Most (but not all) of the news reports I come across about seniors and healthcare deal with the seniors who go and yell at their congressman.

But I don't think they take into account seniors who are living in long-term care facilities, nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities and aren't able to get out and make their voices heard on these issues.

It made me wonder what the truly frail and vulnerable members of society think about the way things are going. Institutionalized seniors receiving Medicaid funding to pay for their nursing home stays can't all make it to the town hall meetings, stand up, speak their piece.

So it made me happy to know that someone took the time to ask his residents their opinion, brave the angry mob and ask a question on their behalf.

Even if he didn't get arrested doing it.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.