After spending seven hours in the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital emergency room, I am embarrassed on the University of Michigan’s behalf to say that I never once saw a doctor or nurse — only the stark walls of the waiting room and the chaos of sick child after sick child passing by. This was the second time I had this experience at Mott’s within about a month and a half, and based on various Google Maps reviews of Mott’s E.R., it seems this inconvenience is relatively common.
I left for home in the middle of the night, feeling defeated by the wait time and still struggling with the pressing health problems that I had originally come to the hospital for. The following day, I tried to make an appointment to see an internist, but, much to my dismay, there was no availability for me in a timely manner. It felt as though I had reached a dead end.
Beyond my complaining, the idea I’m building up to is that if you want immediate medical care in the United States, then you have to be grasping at your throat with your airway moments away from closing or have blood streaming out of your body at an alarming rate.
Am I being a bit hyperbolic? Probably, yes, but my point still stands that healthcare in the United States is known to be state of the art, astounding or even unparalleled. Despite that, the unfortunate bottom line is as follows: U.S. healthcare is expensive, inaccessible, corrupt and ridden with racial disparities. To make matters worse, Michigan Medicine is doing close to nothing to rectify that problem.
Now, I know that is a lot of information to break down. To begin to understand our healthcare system, we must start with its most basic structure. The United States does not have universal healthcare and is instead largely based on private health insurance or public health coverage such as Medicare and Medicaid. Because of this, the approximately 10% of U.S. citizens who are uninsured face an increased likelihood of death or chronic illness from certain conditions. In summary, healthcare in the U.S. is more of a privilege than a right.
Satisfying the need for private health insurance comes at a great cost since insurance runs on a for-profit system. Even with insurance, healthcare is still outrageously expensive as insurance simply does not and cannot cover everything. Additionally, health services become expensive since we pay per service. This opens a gateway for corruption, whereby unnecessary tests are performed in order to make more profits.
The Affordable Care Act made healthcare slightly more affordable to Americans and therefore slightly more accessible. Despite this increase in accessibility, it is still difficult to get healthcare in a timely manner, and many doctors are not even accepting new patients.
To further outline the intersection of social issues with healthcare, people of Color, people with a lower income and women have a disproportionately lower ability to receive optimal healthcare than others. For example, a study involving 400 hospitals in the United States showed that Black patients with heart diseases were more likely to receive older and cheaper care, as well as to be discharged from the hospital earlier, even when not medically advisable, than white patients.
One of our healthcare system’s most saddening flaws is the issue of sexual abuse by medical professionals, to which our University is no stranger. No one should experience these violations at all. It is disappointing and disturbing to know this happens to those who are simply seeking the medical help they need.
As a note to the University directly: you first failed your students and staff alike by allowing medical practitioners to sexually assault patients. Your response to that injustice, the $490 million Dr. Robert Anderson settlement, was only a monetary “solution,” which was paired with a lack of action, many half-hearted apologies and an eager effort for individuals such as Bo Schembechler and the administration as a whole to sweep the situation under the rug.
Excuse my lack of propriety, but to be quite honest, these failures are embarrassing for the University, misguided on the administration’s part and blatantly disrespectful to the victims and their families. Your inaction directly allows the issue of sexual misconduct by medical professionals to persist.
Despite these failures, I do not mean to exempt credit where credit is deserved. Our University’s Medical School has made ground-breaking discoveries, accomplished revolutionary medical advances and saved many lives, as well as been ranked among the best medical schools in the country. The Michigan Model (of full disclosure and open discussion when medical care does not go as planned) is unique, and also desirable from a bioethical standpoint. On top of that, the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion is helpful in encouraging a culturally inclusive and sensitive body of employees at Michigan Medicine.
Given this progress, we must work to excel in other areas as well. We should foster and promote an environment with increased accessibility, a welcoming staff with an expansive knowledge base, a better system for processing patients in terms of wait times and frustration, an assurance that all patients are being given equal care no matter what their demographics are and a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct. Our University can expand upon the Michigan Model by including values such as these in its foundation.
When I was little, I had the ignorant perception that when you go to the doctor’s office, they magically know what is wrong with you and make everything better. After struggling with health complications over the past couple of months and looking deeper into the topic, I have found that this statement is not entirely true. Our healthcare system struggles on multiple fronts, including healthcare inequalities for marginalized populations, devastating sexual abuse that plagues undeserving patients, excessive healthcare costs and general difficulties in accessing much-needed healthcare.
I truly miss the rosy perspective of medical care I held as a child. That far-off perspective proves to me that ignorance really is bliss. We can, however, change the dismal landscape of U.S. healthcare with small steps taken by our University. If our hospitals run equitably, effectively and with quicker service, they can become a model for others across the nation. I propose that our “Leaders and Best” take action in order to turn enlightenment and knowledge, rather than ignorance, into bliss.
Anna Trupiano is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.