Friday, April 17, 2009

Tooting From Seattle: The Sequel

Friday evening, 9:15 PM: I’m back in my hotel room after placing my aching lower back directly in front of a blasting hot tub jet. It’s been another long day at the Association of Health Care Journalists conference. I’ll wind down for about an hour, and then, to bed ...

But first more “toots” from Tooter:

Thursday Evening: I wrap up yesterday’s blog piece and head down to a conference buffet social. There must be 300 journalists in the room, which is a scary thought only if you don’t know that at least half must be “a little bit” bipolar. Crazy goes with the territory. Seriously, no sane person would ever choose to be a journalist. I grab some food and in nothing flat I’m right at home.

Friday Morning: I head for a session on reporting about disasters. A spokesperson from the Dept of Homeland Security and the local port security director are on the panel. I’ve never been an “on the spot” reporter, but with mental illness location and time are no restrictions. A disaster in Florida, for instance, may cause extreme distress to someone watching it on TV in Kansas, who may not realize something is wrong for another six months.

Later Morning: My second session is on mental health. About 50 other journalists are in attendance. I say hi to Randy Revelle as I walk in. We’ve run into each other at two DBSA conferences. Randy is a prominent area politician, openly bipolar, and was the driving force behind mental health parity in the state of Washington. State parity laws, he said, can only apply to about a third of the people who need coverage. You need a federal law for the other two-thirds. Problem is, he says, the legislation that became law last year is riddled with exemptions and loopholes.

Elizabeth McCauley PhD of the University of Washington talks about adolescent mental health. We used to think that the brain was set for life at ages 3,4,5, she relates. Now we know that “everything changes” beginning in early adolescence. This is the time expectations ratchet up, along with increased risk-taking behavior, plus depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia start rearing their ugly heads.

Meanwhile, the brain is laying the foundation for more sophisticated executive function and problem-solving skills. This includes the completion of brain cell genesis, newer myelination, and dendritic pruning.

Jennifer Stuber PhD of the University of Washington talks about stigma, and how the media can report stories that do not play into the public’s fears and misconceptions. I’m heartened by the high level of questioning from the audience. All the reporters here want to do their job better.

Lunch: Sen Ron Wyden (D Ore) is the speaker. He has 14 senators from both sides of the aisle signed on to a bill that would combine private and universal healthcare into a multi-payer system. It you take the $2.5 trillion US taxpayers currently spend on medical treatment, he said, and divide it by the US population, you would be able to hire a doctor for every seven families.

The biggest challenge for reform, he said, is to unpack that 2.5 trillion and redeploy it.

Sen Wyden is addressing a very tough audience, hard-boiled health journalists who have heard it all, but I see lots of pens scratching across lots of notebooks. Lots of nodding heads and knowing smiles. The Senator is clearly making a very good impression.

Late afternoon: A nice long walk along Seattle’s harbor front, a cheeseburger in a local dive, and back to the hotel for a soak in the hot tub. To bed ...


Lizabeth said...

As long as health care is viewed with "saving money" as a priority instead of quality of care being the point of the whole thing, all bills will be riddled with compromises. But some parity is better than none.

I worked as a nurse for years--it was out of my hands and very very frustrating when people were discharged too soon because the "official diagnosis and careplan" said they were well in five days, even if they were not.

The value of some things cannot be measured in money and health and healthcare is one of those things.

It is one thing to guard against fraud in any system--it is another to say quality care costs too much.

ok, ok, I am hypomanic today and on my hobby horse--dismounting now.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Lizabeth. Wow! You're good! You distinguished between health and healthcare. One of the speakers brought that up in a session at the conference - what we really want is good health.

In the meantime, the health care debate will be heating up, and we need to keep hearing intelligent voices like yours. So please keep posting.