In Their Own Words
No one enters Sherri’s home through the front door. Everyone comes in the back through the kitchen – which is the center of activity. As you enter, you pass the inflatable pool and water toys and a clothesline full of today’s laundry. Her porch is crowded with pots of colorful impatiens and marigolds. An American flag flies next to the door.
When you enter, you may find Sherri having coffee with a neighbor, her daughter Emily might be coloring, and AJ, her son, would be doing homework. Emily is eight years and AJ is twelve. On my first visit for this study, they were all making a cake for Joe’s birthday. Joe is now Sherri’s husband.
Sherri is one of those people who knows everyone in town. She is always looking for resources to solve a friend’s problem. Most times I talk to her she asks about services for someone she knows who is in need. She has arranged an amazing array of services for her children from special ed to mental health and physical health care. At one point she hired a child advocate to help get AJ the care he needed from the school system. Finding the right care for her children is a full time job for Sherri. She finds most of the services by talking with other moms in the same situation.
Sherri lost HUSKY in the summer of 2003, like thousands of other parents. Before she went on HUSKY, she was uninsured for about a year when her job with the city of Bridgeport was eliminated. Emily and AJ went on HUSKY, but Sherri didn’t have any options for coverage. During that year, she had an emergency room visit and a CAT scan for optic migraines. She paid off the $2000 bill over time. She has been treated over time for anxiety and depression. She took medications when she had HUSKY, but she can’t afford it when she is uninsured. Sometimes she cuts her pills in half to make them last longer. She needs glasses, but cannot afford them without insurance. She started getting some much needed dental work under HUSKY, but had to stop when she lost it. She got no check ups or mammograms when she is uninsured. She went to a community health center in Stratford when she got a serious cold and it was only $20. Usually she just toughs it out. She knows they are very lucky to have a clinic in town – the walk-in center charges $150.
When she had HUSKY, Sherri got great health care. She had a panic attack, went to the emergency room and was admitted overnight. She saw a cardiologist and got a stress test. And it was all covered. Sherri is extremely grateful for the time she was on HUSKY.
Sherri worked as a part time paralegal so she is not eligible for benefits. She has to work part time because she misses work often for her children’s health problems and feels it is important to be there for them when they get home from school. Both children have been diagnosed with learning disabilities and AJ is struggling to heal from his father’s abuse.
Sherri is divorced, having escaped a violent relationship that affected both her and her children. Her ex-husband was violent toward both her and AJ. She had to hide money at her mother’s house and slip away from her abusers with the kids. A domestic violence grant pays for her and the kid’s therapy, regardless of their insurance status.
Sherri has been seeing Joe, a construction worker, for three or four years. He has been living with them for about a year. Sherri has been reluctant to get married, understandably. But soon after she lost HUSKY, Joe got a job with a company that offers great benefits to workers and their families. So they were married on Valentine’s Day. They honeymooned in the Berkshires – the kids joined them after a few days. After she got on Joe’s insurance, she finished the work on her teeth. She also saw an eye doctor for glasses; the visit only cost $15. In our first visit after the wedding she said, “Life is good. Really good.”
In the spring, AJ had a serious behavioral incident at school and had to be hospitalized. He spent eight hours in the ER waiting for placement; Sherri couldn’t see him or talk to him. Emily did not handle her brother’s breakdown well, acting out, and needed therapy again herself. Sherri went back into AA meetings to deal with her feelings and to make sure she didn’t back slide into behaviors that aren’t good for her or her family. Joe was “great”, very supportive through the crisis. “Guilt will eat me alive if I let it. I need to take my responsibility and move on.”
Thankfully, Sherri had not taken the kids off HUSKY because she doesn’t know how much of the massive bill Joe’s private insurance would pay for. The hospital alone was $1100/day. She had to take a leave of absence from her job to deal with AJ’s hospitalization and his needs after he came home, as well as protecting Emily’s and her own health through the crisis. He is doing much better now, gets regular therapy, stays on his medications and is “much easier to live with.” They are planning for high school and his future.
Sherri would like to start a program for recovering substance abusing women with a friend. As a survivor of substance abuse and a violent marriage, she wants to give back to her community. They are planning to offer women with night classes on computer skills that will give them a start on a new life. She has volunteered at the Bridgeport domestic violence shelter.
The last time I saw Sheri and Joe, I learned that Joe had been laid off and Sherri’s boss wasn’t going to give her her job back. She really doesn’t blame him – she was out a lot because the kids needed her. She is looking for a stable job with benefits. Joe needs surgery due to complications from an old injury, so they are paying $400/month for his COBRA. But they couldn’t afford $1100/month to cover Sherri as well, so she says, “I’ll wing it.” They are both optimistic and confident – Sherri will find a great job, Joe will be fine after the surgery and be back to work soon.
What do you think is needed to solve the problem of the uninsured? Who should be responsible?
“The government should take over. We should have socialized medicine like Canada. Everyone, every family, in this country needs health insurance. It shouldn’t matter what job you have. And parents not having insurance affects the kids.”
”If HUSKY goes, where will kids go? HUSKY saved AJ’s life. Without HUSKY – where would we be? If I wasn’t able to be there for them [pointing to her kids], where would they be? With DCF, that’s where.”