With health care at stake, our voices should count [column] | Local Voices


My life has been arduous, however I’ve at all times labored even tougher. I wish to share a bit about the place it’s gotten me — and what it would imply for you in the event you battle like I’ve.

I grew up in a household with out a lot cash. Once I dropped out of highschool, my choices have been restricted to minimum-wage jobs.

That wasn’t sufficient to pay the payments to start with, however issues bought worse when an employer shorted me on hours and wages. Once I took $9 that was owed to me — simply so I may eat — I ended up with a prison document. That killed my dream of going to nursing college.

These items occur on a regular basis once you’re poor. However rising up struggling can also instill a preventing spirit.

I turned a house well being aide, the closest factor to nursing I may get. I preferred the work, however the wages have been very low. I labored 60-hour weeks simply to scrape by, which took a toll on my physique.

Finally, my mobility was compromised and I wanted surgical procedure that I couldn’t afford. As extra well being challenges piled on, I used to be compelled to give up my well being care job and attempt to get by on odd jobs.

Luckily, in 2015, Pennsylvania lastly expanded Medicaid beneath the Inexpensive Care Act. The promise of much-needed foot surgical procedure was so shut. However Pennsylvania’s complicated, partially privatized system created extra boundaries. Complicating issues, I used to be married to an undocumented particular person, so I used to be scared to entry providers.

Finally I spotted that the system wasn’t simply failing me and my household — it was rigged in opposition to everybody like us: poor individuals working low-wage jobs, no matter the place we got here from.

That’s once I bought concerned in Put Individuals First PA, which organizes struggling individuals throughout the state. Via my work there, I bought to be concerned in well being care once more, this time as a neighborhood organizer and advocate.

Across the identical time, I bought concerned with the Poor Individuals’s Marketing campaign, a nationwide ethical motion that hyperlinks the problems I used to be residing with to many others. I discovered extra concerning the disenfranchisement of poor individuals like me, of individuals of Mexican origin like my members of the family, of individuals in rural Pennsylvania and past.

Getting concerned with different individuals was so empowering. It additionally opened my eyes to all of the methods our schooling, well being, authorized and voting methods functioned to favor these with cash and political clout — and depart the remainder of us out.

For instance, we had two hospitals serving us in Lancaster metropolis. One among them, run by UPMC Pinnacle (and previously St. Joseph Hospital) closed, leaving metropolis residents reliant on simply Lancaster Basic Hospital through the pandemic. Within the place of the closed hospital, builders suggest to construct a mix of market-rate townhouses and inexpensive housing, however inexpensive for whom? And is that this assured?

Some elected officers say we now have to decide on between well being care and housing, however what sort of alternative is that? My accomplice and I have been among the many many affected by the ensuing lack of entry to testing and COVID-19 care. We survived, however many others didn’t.

In accordance with a report from the Middle for Healthcare High quality and Fee Reform, greater than 800 U.S. hospitals are vulnerable to closing this 12 months as a result of they aren’t making sufficient cash, although the individuals in these communities want them. This isn’t proper. This isn’t what this nation is meant to be.

Poor individuals work arduous. We have now concepts for high quality well being care, housing and justice. However our voices are sometimes silenced by the company pursuits which have undue affect over lawmakers.

For those who’re as fed up as I used to be, you possibly can be part of your state chapter of the Poor Individuals’s Marketing campaign. Become involved in fights over well being care and voting rights. Present up at planning board conferences, metropolis council conferences and college board conferences. Be lively with us.

Let’s increase our voices collectively and remodel the methods that don’t serve us into these that may.

Tammy Rojas, of Lancaster, is a coordinator with Put Individuals First! PA, a board member of the Nationwide Union of the Homeless and a member of the Poor Individuals’s Marketing campaign. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.