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Vol.2 No.5
September 18, 2010

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     Should Physicians be Activists?

                             by Susan Rosenthal - Canada

 

Dr Roland Wong.jpgDr. Roland Wong is under threat of losing his license to practice medicine. He didn’t harm anyone. He helped people on social assistance get extra money for food.

The average Ontario welfare recipient gets $500 per month. The special dietary allowance program provided extra benefits of up to $250 per month to enable those with medical conditions to purchase more healthful food. An estimated 20 percent of people on social assistance rely on these extra benefits.

Wong, who specializes in occupation and community medicine, admits to completing about 15,000 special dietary allowance forms in one year. He not only signed forms for his own patients, he also signed them for people attending mass clinics arranged by anti-poverty activists.

Between 2001/02 and 2009/10, the cost of funding the special dietary allowance program rose from $6 million to $220 million. Claiming that the program was being “abused,” the province scrapped it and directed the police to investigate 2,300 recipients of this benefit.

Conservative city councilor Robert Ford, who is running for mayor of Toronto in October, filed a complaint against Wong with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. The College must now investigate whether Wong engaged in conduct that “would reasonably be regarded by members as disgraceful, dishonorable or unprofessional.”

Ford insists, “A doctor is there to be a doctor, not to advocate for the poor...You can’t have people in the medical field doing that.”

Wong views the complaint against him as politically-motivated harassment and refuses to be intimidated. At an April 6 public meeting, he protested government policies that promote homelessness, starvation, sickness and premature death in the richest province in Canada.

 “Income level is the best predictor of health,” he said. “We have to invest in human resources - they are not to be wasted.” Wong points out that cuts to social assistance in the mid-1990s saved the province $2 billion dollars, while the special dietary allowance restores only 10 percent of what was lost.

With regard to the charges against him, he stated, “I don’t know what will happen. But whatever happens to me, I will be happy because I’ve done something useful.”

Roland Wong embodies the spirit in which all physicians should practice medicine.

Watch the 15 minute video of Wong’s April 6 presentation.
Send messages of support to Dr. Roland Wong

Susan Rosenthal is the editor of PEOPLE FIRST!

          Why I Left the United States

                      by Stuart Jeanne Bramhall - New Zealand


Stuart's book cover.jpgI am a 62 year old, child-and-adolescent psychiatrist, single mother, political activist and the author of The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee. This memoir recounts my decision to close my 25-year Seattle practice and begin a new life in New Zealand.

My decision to leave the US was largely influenced by 15 years of covert harassment that started in 1987, when I supported two former Black Panthers to convert an abandoned school into an African American Heritage Museum.

Apparently, some people in high places found it quite threatening that I would use my income and social status as a physician to support such a project. What started as unrelenting phone harassment and illegal break-ins at my home and office progressed to attempts on my life and an affair with an undercover agent who railroaded me into a psychiatric hospital.

Fortunately, the attempts on my life ceased in July of 1989. I adjusted to living with a tapped phone, constant prank and hang-up calls and visits from undercover operatives posing as patients.

In one way, my close encounter with US intelligence served me well when I later launched an (ultimately unsuccessful) petition campaign to place a single-payer initiative on Washington State’s 2000 ballot. My experience with covert operations prepared me to cope with the continual parade of undercover informants (sent by private insurance companies) who attempted to infiltrate and derail the Washington single-payer coalition.

In the end, my decision to emigrate in 2002 was as much economic as political – the significant cutbacks in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements that resulted from the rising cost of funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of my psychiatric colleagues had gone bankrupt as a result of plummeting insurance reimbursement stemming from the “managed care” revolution. I wasn’t quite bankrupt myself, but I soon would be if funding for public programs continued to be sacrificed to pay for the Middle East wars.

Although the promotional material for my book focuses mainly on my own experiences, my main motivation for writing it was the murder of a postal worker and union activist, Oscar Manassa. 

As I recount in my book, prior to his death, Manassa also experienced extensive covert harassment. The Seattle police were blocked from undertaking a homicide investigation when the US Postal Inspectors (who unbeknown to many Americans are actually an intelligence arm of the federal government) seized the evidence file.

It has been my lifelong dream to pressure Congress into launching an investigation into Oscar Manassa’s murder, as well as those of 20-plus other postal workers who died of violent and suspicious “suicides” in the late eighties and early nineties.

Stuart Jeanne Bramhall invites you to visit her blog

 

     The Fight for California's Future

                                by Eileen Prendiville - USA

suffragists2.JPG

On August 26th 1920, the 19th amendment of the US Constitution became law. After decades of struggle by the courageous women and men who fought for equal rights, women were finally granted the right to vote.

In California, Republican candidate and billionaire Meg Whitman is in a heated race with Democratic candidate Jerry Brown for Governor. 

Whitman admits that her voting record is “atrocious” and that in the last 28 years she has rarely voted. She dishonors the women suffragists who were imprisoned, tortured and often ridiculed during their struggle to gain the right to vote.

Whitman has blamed unions, public sector workers and their pensions as the reason for California’s economic woes.

However, as a corporate executive of various companies, most recently the CEO of eBay, Whitman made her fortune by outsourcing jobs, closing manufacturing plants, laying off workers, cutting salaries and benefits for those remaining and giving herself and her executives hefty compensation packages including stock options and valuable perks.

Whitman served on the board of Goldman Sachs, one of the many financial institutions bailed out by US taxpayers, where she was directly involved in decisions about executive bonuses and mortgage-backed securities which have been blamed for creating the economic meltdown that caused thousands of Californians to lose their jobs, health benefits and homes.

A Whitman administration would be a disaster for working families, because she plans to lay off 40,000 state workers and cut $15 billion from the California state budget.

The California Nurses Association (CNA) has endorsed Jerry Brown who compiled an impressive record in support of working families during nearly four decades of public service.

Whitman has attacked the CNA and their “radical union leadership” for their satirical “Queen Meg” Facebook campaign to educate the public about Whitman’s platform.

On August 26, the CNA organized a rally in Sacramento to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the 19th amendment and to expose Whitman’s record. At the event, nurses dressed in period costume marched to the Capitol carrying signs that said “Women Vote for Women who Vote” and “Vote Nurses Values”

Prior to the march and rally, nurses attended a class outlining the history of the women’s suffrage movement - history which should be, but is not, part of every high school curriculum. Many of the suffragists were nurses and were deeply committed to public health as well as equal rights for women.

Eileen Prendiville works as a staff nurse in a San Francisco hospital. She belongs to the California Nurses Association, a member union of National Nurses United.

 

      1 Million Kids on Anti-Psychotics

                             by Susan Rosenthal - Canada

anti-poverty demo.jpg

 

In July, the Washington Post reported that Corporate America is hoarding a record $1.8 trillion in cash while it waits for profit-making opportunities. At the same time, record numbers of American children are being prescribed toxic psychiatric drugs at earlier ages. These two facts are connected.

The corporate class stole its trillions from us, by exploiting workers at home and abroad – paying us less than our labor is worth – and by laying off workers and squeezing the rest to work a lot harder for much less.

They also steal from our children.

Exploitation and deprivation cause parents to be distressed, depressed, angry, anxious and overwhelmed. An estimated 15 million American children (one in five) live with an adult who suffered a major depression in the previous year. Children respond to parental distress with symptoms and behaviors. The greater the parent’s distress, the greater the child’s distress.

Instead of using some of the corporate treasury to invest in families, distressed children are being labeled with mental disorders and drugged into submission. These children are being robbed of their health and the hope of any real improvement in their lives.

For several decades, researchers like Peter and Ginger Breggin have documented the shocking extent to which American children are being drugged with stimulants and anti-depressants.  

Now, thanks to the power of drug-company marketing, distressed children are being drugged with powerful anti-psychotics. In adults, these toxic compounds increase the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, suicide, seizures, infection, kidney failure, nervous-system damage and sudden death. The effects on children are unknown.

Last September, an FDA report found that the number of anti-psychotic prescriptions dispensed to children (0-17 years) had risen 22 percent over the previous 5 years.

The FDA examined 6 anti-psychotic drugs: Seroquel® (quetiapine); Zyprexa® (olanzapine); Risperdal® (risperidone); Abilify® (aripiprazole); Geodon® (ziprasidone); and Invega® (paliperidone).

In 2008, of the 32 million prescriptions dispensed for these drugs, 4.8 million were dispensed to children (15 percent of the total).

That same year, one million individual children were prescribed these anti-psychotics (19 percent of the total of 5.5 million individuals). Here are the numbers, by age group:

                                         1,770 children aged 0-2
                                       64,664 children aged 3-6
                                     414,451 children aged 7-12 
                                     540,760 children aged 13-17

Diagnoses applied to the infants and toddlers (aged 0-2) included: Attention Deficit Disorder; Mental/Behavior Problems, Behavioral Problems; Other Emotional Disturbances, and Residual Schizophrenia, a diagnosis that can be made on the basis of “odd beliefs and unusual perceptual experiences.”

A more accurate diagnosis for these children's symptoms and behaviors would be “Parental Distress due to Heartless Social Policies."

A recent report from the Urban Institute found that 7 percent of all 9-month-old infants live with severely depressed mothers, and 41 percent of 9-month-old infants live with mothers who suffer some form of depression. These rates are higher among mothers living in poverty, who are also more likely to suffer domestic violence.

Only a sick social system would enrich the few by stealing the present lives and future hopes of the many.

Susan Rosenthal is a Toronto-area physician and the author of a new book, SICK and SICKER: Essays on Class, Health and Health Care (2010).

 

      Book Review: SICK and SICKER

                               by Patricia Campbell - Northern Ireland

SusanCover.jpgColm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International - Ireland, has condemned our mental health services as inhumane and grossly inadequate. Riot police have been deployed to quell violence in under-serviced, overcrowded facilities.

O’Gorman exclaims, “We can’t pretend this is not happening. We know. There would be outrage if this happened in cancer care and there should be outrage now.”

These problems are systemic and cannot be blamed on individual staff, most of whom are committed to providing quality care.

Susan Rosenthal’s new book, SICK and SICKER: Essays on Class Health and Health Care,  exposes the class roots of such problems.

Rosenthal argues that the primary cause of poor mental and physical health is lack of social power, and she backs this claim with international research.

As a front-line community psychiatric nurse in Belfast, a post-war zone that is one of the most deprived areas in Europe, I found the chapter, “Mental illness or Social Sickness?” particularly resonant.

Rosenthal insists that mental illness is not an individual defect but a reasonable response to unreasonable social conditions. She observes, “Those who rule society make the rules. The ruling class defines orderly behavior as that which serves its interests and disorderly behavior as that which threatens its interests.”

She concludes, “Psychiatry is...ideology disguised as science to meet capitalism’s need for social control.” Her analysis explains why riot police and security personnel are used to quell discontent in mental health facilities.

As Rosenthal observes, “Psychiatry doesn’t question the class system that generates mental distress; it targets the victims of the system and those who protest against it. Mental distress becomes the problem to be treated, not the social conditions that create distress.”

We see evidence of this statement in Belfast, where a staggering 40 percent of the population were prescribed antidepressants over the course of one year, while glaring social problems continue to be ignored.

In “The Myth of Scarcity,” Rosenthal demolishes the claim that there aren’t enough resources to resolve social problems. She explains that cries of scarcity have only one purpose; to justify not sharing the wealth. This is difficult to dispute in the context of governments bailing out banks and corrupt politicians squandering public funds.

Rosenthal encourages us to learn from what happened in Chile in the 1970s. She describes how Chilean workers began to democratize their health service and how the ruling class staged a coup to dismantle this and other working-class achievements. Many feel disheartened by such defeats, but Rosenthal sees it differently, “The achievements of Chile’s workers can inspire our own struggle. By learning the lessons of their defeat, we can go the full distance to finish what they began.”

Credit to O’Gorman for highlighting the reality we live in. Rosenthal’s book not only explains this reality but inspires a fight back and provides direction. I urge everyone, and especially health workers, to read this book.

Patricia Campbell works as a community psychiatric nurse in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is also president of the Independent Workers Union and a co-founder of its affiliate, Universi, a health workers’ union.

 

   NEWS...

news logo.jpgMinnesota nurses fight hospitals’ attacks

On July 6, the day 12,000 nurses in the twin cities of St. Pauls and Minneapolis were set to strike, the nurses ratified a three-year contract by 90 percent. The deal fought off steep pension and health-care concessions and included modest raises but fell short of winning the MNAs chief goal: enforceable nurse-to-patient ratios.



"ObamaCare" sacrifices abortion rights

The new health-care reform bill restricted the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. Not satisfied with these restrictions, the Obama administration added more on July 15. Unless  woman in the new high-risk insurance pools can prove rape, incest, or life-endangering medical conditions, they will be denied abortions. Women with AIDS and other medical conditions that increase the dangers of pregnancy, and women who aren't ready to be mothers for whatever reason - all are denied access to abortion, even if they offer to pay out of their own pockets! This is a giant step backwards for womens' rights and, as usual, working-class women will suffer the most.


Fight for public services!

 
The Catalan organization, DEMPEUS per la salut pública, has endorsed the call for a general strike on September 29 to defend the accessibility, quality and universality of public services. DEMPEUS urges all organizations and individuals to oppose service cuts and privatization on the basis that access to health care and other social programs must be provided as a human right, not a commodity.  

Send messages of support to DEMPEUS


Is Canada more physician-friendly?

If the American medical system is "the best in the world," why are record numbers of doctors moving to Canada? Some US doctors make astronomical incomes, but the average American family doctor makes less than his or her Canadian counterpart. Canadian doctors can count on being paid by their provincial governments, while American doctors must jump over bureaucratic hurtles to collect from penny-pinching insurance companies. Malpractice insurance is much lower in Canada, which also offers better job security. Most American family doctors work for Health Management Organizations (HMOs) that keep cutting staff to raise profits.


Don't solve social problems, make them disappear

Canada has discovered a novel way to cut social programs - don't collect information that would reveal a need for them. Citing privacy issues, the Conservative Harper government has scrapped the mandatory "long-form" census over the objections of hundreds of national organizations. According to one Canadian economist, this is  an "appallingly stupid idea" because "there is simply no way any useful data will emerge from this exercise." Precisely!

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International Health Workers for People Over Profit (IHWPOP) has joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign against Israel. We oppose Israel’s repression of the Palestinians and support a single state in Israel/Palestine with equal rights for all.

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All of the material in this newsletter is made available to the public under the terms of the Creative Commons Code. Readers are welcome to share and use this material for non-commercial purposes, as long as they acknowledge the author(s) and International Health Workers for People Over Profit

 

 

 

 




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