Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Clinton Slanders My Ob/Gyn

I think the latest flap about Hillary Clinton distorting the truth may be slightly overblown. This time, her problem seems to have been sloppy fact-checking, not outright lying. But this particular episode cuts very close to home for me.

Up 'til a few days ago she's been telling a story about a young pregnant woman in southeast Ohio who was denied medical care at the local hospital for lack of a $100 upfront payment. The baby was stillborn, and the woman died, too. Now, Clinton is right that the health care system is broken. But she relied on gossip and no one on her staff verified the story before spreading it all along the campaign trail.

These are accusations that hurt my neighbors, my doctors. Here's how CNN debunked it. (Video via Alternet.)

The hospital accused of this heartlessness is O'Bleness, our one and only local hospital. (The CNN anchorwoman totally mangled its name.) The doctors so accused are at River Rose Obstetrics and Gynecology. Now, O'Bleness is a small-town facility that does not always offer cutting-edge care; financially and technologically, it just can't. But these obstetricians are fine doctors, good human beings, and I hate seeing them libeled and slandered.

I know about this firsthand. I gave birth to the Tiger at O'Bleness and had just about a perfect experience, apart from the nurse anesthetist having been sprayed by a skunk that same morning and still stinking to high heaven. The doctors at River Rose attended us, and I'm still very happy with them. They've been wonderful with everything from my infernal UTI to a slow-motion breast cancer scare I had over the past year.

If you've been following my blog, you know that I reflexively take a critical position toward medicine (one example is here), so when I say my ob/gyns are good, it's not just empty words. These doctors listen. They take you seriously. They don't make unfounded assumptions or leap to conclusions.

They also don't just cater to the well-heeled. I was in there just a week ago, and I was struck again by how their waiting room is a microcosm of rural poverty. You see teenage mothers accompanied by their own thirtysomething mothers. You note that these young women are on their second or third baby. You smell the acrid odor of cigarette smoke, even though smoking is banned in the building. You hear the exhaustion and impatience in the women's voices as they deal with their kids. You see new mothers feeding their babies formula, even though both the hospital and the physicians strongly promote breastfeeding.

This is not the picture of a practice that turns away the needy. And it turns out that in this case, too, neither O'Bleness nor River Rose denied care to this terribly unlucky young woman. As O'Bleness states on its website: "We provide care regardless of patients' ability to pay." And in this case, as the New York Times reported over the weekend, O'Bleness admitted her without any delay.

Was the distortion of this story an honest mistake on the part of the Clinton campaign? Could be. But if so, it shows egregious negligence:
Linda M. Weiss, a spokeswoman for the not-for-profit hospital, said the Clinton campaign had never contacted the hospital to check the accuracy of the story, which Mrs. Clinton had first heard from a Meigs County, Ohio, sheriff’s deputy in late February.
(Source: The New York Times)
What exactly happened remains unclear. The expectant mother apparently visited another clinic closer to her hometown where she'd once owed money at an earlier time when she'd been uninsured. The Washington Post reports that Holzer Clinic - a local chain of for-profit providers - had taken her to court for a debt, which she however repaid in full back in 2005.

It's unconfirmed that Holzer was the outfit that turned her away, but I think it's highly plausible. I get some of my healthcare there, and the doctors are good. (Disclosure: one of them is a friend of mine.) But Holzer is pretty tough when it comes to bill collections (first-hand experience there, too!) and the people at the reception desk are known to stonewall, at least at my local branch. If their books erroneously caused them to think she owed money, I can easily imagine the receptionists sending her away.

So it looks like yes, lack of insurance almost certainly caused her to miss care that might have made a difference. At the same time, the woman suffered from preeclampsia (according to the WaPo), a condition that sometimes still proves lethal to mother and child even with the best of care. A college classmate of mine suffered that fate. So did the wife of a former co-worker of my husband's. They were both well insured. Sometimes nature is brutal.

I hope both Clinton and Obama will make health care reform a priority. The only real answer is single-payer system that would ensure everyone gets the care she needs, whenever she needs it - "Medicare for all." But it's neither ethical nor politically effective to rely on unvetted stories that slander my smart, kind, and dedicated health care providers.


bigkahunareports said...

Sorry you were misled, but nobody has accused O'Bleness of anything. The accusation is against Holzer Medical. And the story has been updated in several locations. I reported on it at NoQuarterUSA. Clinton never mentioned O'Bleness, nor did Deputy Holman. In fact if you watch his comments again you'll see he clearly states "so she went to another hospital". The 'another hospital' is O'Bleness.

So please update your article. Thank you.
Big Kahuna

Sungold said...

Big Kahuna, thanks for your comment. I'll respond in a new post. However, this issue here is not what the deputy said, but what her campaign then did with the story.