Sunday, August 23, 2009

Real Health Care Reform-Continued

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Senator Frank (as in Barney), and like-minded folk,

What follows is an article from that right-wing hotbed The San Francisco Chronicle.

Is this the kind of universal health care we look forward to if you have your way?

Chronic drunks' treatment costs S.F. big bucks
C.W. Nevius

San Francisco has paid at least $150,000 for Kenny Walters in the past
year. He isn't employed, has an arrest record as long as his hair, and can
often be found passed out in a doorway on Haight Street.

Kenny Walters' job is to get drunk.

He's certainly not alone. "Chronic inebriants" are a grim and disturbing
fact of life in San Francisco. They also cost the city millions.

The frustration is that the public service network - police, fire and
medical professionals - doesn't seem to make a dent when it comes to
people like Walters. There are suggestions, like a pilot program for
high-impact users at the Department of Public Health, or the Community
Justice Center to target frequent users, but nothing seems to get

A five-year study found that 225 high ambulance users cost the city an
average of $13 million annually, said Maria X. Martinez, a deputy director
at the Department of Public Health. 'A lot of money'

That may be low. Martinez's study calculated an ambulance pickup at a cost
of $725 in 2007; for 2009-10 the cost is $1,458.

"No matter how you calculate it," Martinez said, "it is a lot of money."

There should be a way to address this. Martinez's study also found that
fewer than 300 individuals account for 80 percent of the ambulance runs
for alcohol treatment. That kind of focus is exactly why the Community
Justice Center was created. Apparently, in screwy City Hall logic, saving
a few hundred thousand dollars by dumping the Community Justice Center
trumps the loss of millions.

Recently Walters, who came from Arizona a year and a half ago, was curled
up in the fetal position on the sidewalk near Masonic and Haight. Tourists
with a camera walked past him; some peered down to see if he was

"Basically he comes out here and drinks himself to this point every day,"
police Officer John Andrews said. "It's like the movie 'Leaving Las
Vegas,' " in which where Nicolas Cage's character goes to Las Vegas to
drink himself to death.

Walters, who was decked out in a red, long-sleeve Spider-Man shirt, isn't
homeless or broke. The 41-year-old happily shared his story with me. He
sat up, pushed his blond bangs off his face, and blinked his striking blue
eyes until his surroundings came into focus.

"I do get caught for drinking out here every day," he said affably. "I
wish I had another beer right now."

He said he gets $953 a month in Supplemental Security Income for disabled
and aged citizens and pays $650 a month for a hotel room in the Tenderloin
under the city's Care Not Cash program.

With free meals available from local charities, that leaves $300 a month
for booze. Walters says he doesn't do hard drugs, just pot. He just
drinks, usually "40 ouncers," big, cheap bottles of beer.

"He probably gets picked up two or three times a week," said Andrews, who
pointed to two plastic hospital bands Walters had on his wrist from
previous visits. "I've seen him with four or five hospital bands at a

Walters is usually too intoxicated to walk, which makes him ineligible for
a sobering center. But regardless of where he goes, Walter's isn't
bothered about the expense.

"Doesn't cost me a thing," he said cheerfully.

But the city is on the hook. It isn't just the money. Each pickup means an
ambulance and a fire engine are out of service for other calls.

"One guy had 49 pickups in a month," Martinez said.

Walters says he has "probably gotten 100 tickets in a year and a half, but
I just don't go to court. ... My tickets just don't seem to show up."

Actually, they are either dismissed or a warrant is issued. But because he
ignores those, too, nothing happens.

Andrews says he continues to cite Walters, but "he's in such bad health
there isn't much we can do."

It is a sad story on every level. While it is infuriating to hear that
"frequent fliers" game the system to get free care, everyone knows how
this story ends.

"These guys show up in somewhat good health and then deteriorate," said
Andrews. "Eventually we find them under one of the bushes in Golden Gate
Park - dead."

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