US Healthcare History: Our Very Own Killing Fields

By Donna Smith

Jenny Fritts was 24 years old. Jenny lived with her husband Sean for the past five years, and together they had a little girl named Kylee, 2. Jenny was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with her second child – a beautiful, baby girl.

Jenny is dead. Jenny’s unborn baby is dead. They died because they were turned away for appropriate care at a for-profit hospital because they did not have health insurance. Sean rushed Jenny back to another hospital when her symptoms became even more severe, and he lied about having insurance to get her in the door. She was placed on a respirator in intensive care, but she didn’t make it. She died. And so did her baby.

They become two more of the more than 45,000 Americans who die preventable deaths due to our broken healthcare system every year. Two more. Mother and child.

And the tragedy doesn’t end there. Sean has been very depressed since he lost Jenny and their baby. The rest of his family and friends are worried about him. But he cannot get treatment either. He doesn’t have insurance. (You can watch their story here: Imagine how you might feel. Imagine.

These are our killing fields. In America. In October 2009. In Barack Obama’s America. That land full of hope and promise for those who can afford that hope and promise. Yet few in our government offices react as one might think you would when hearing of Jenny and the baby and Sean and Kylee.

I read these stories every day on the website. I read them and clean up a spelling glitch or two and then post them for the world to see. The website belongs to the nurses of the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee. Patients send their stories to the nurses in cascading waves of anger and frustration and desperation. They want someone to listen and to give a damn. And they want someone to help.

But there are so many. The nurses advocate for their own patients whenever they can. And when it’s possible, nurses take to the streets and to the phone to try to protest. But the numbers swell every day.

Many are like Jenny and Sean and have no insurance at all or have lost their insurance when they lost jobs or because an employer cannot afford to offer it.

Some are insured and fighting insurance companies for care that their doctors have ordered.

Rich Zandlo, 38, suffers from Cystic Fibrosis and is currently surviving off just 19 percent of his lungs. Rich, who lives in Phoenix, needs a lung transplant at UCLA, but his insurer will not cover the transplant if it is done out of state.

His family is looking for help raising money to get him temporary housing and care in California so he can be available to be on the operating table when the call comes. Find out more, and what you can do to help, at their website,

Amanda (Tannery) Field, 30, has thrombocytosis and doctors are also working her up for Budd Chiari syndrome which is preventing the liver from draining properly. Simply put, her liver is dying. Amanda and her husband both work full time, and she has a 13 year old son to support. Due to the illness, she has been unable to work recently, due to the hospital stays. Aetna, her insurer, has denied help due to a lapse in coverage while she was unemployed.

Amanda’s family also has a website, where they are trying to raise the quarter million dollars necessary for a liver transplant. They have raised only 7 percent of the funds needed to be evaluated for a transplant. Doctors are currently working on a variety of interim measures to keep her alive.

So, what is our Congress waiting for? And our President? Have they so detached themselves from Sean’s reality, from Rich’s struggle for air and from Amanda’s failing health that they think this debate is about excise taxes and re-election prospects?

This is no political contest. This is very real life and death. Mothers and babies. Young and old. The profit-takers know no boundaries for their greed, and our killing fields are filling with the innocents.

We apparently do not understand that this is no different than an external enemy attacking our citizens and killing 120 of them every single day. What would we be doing? Would we repel that aggressor? Would we protect civilian lives? I don’t know that answer to that as we apparently think it acceptable to allow Jenny and her baby to die. And they were just two that day – 118 others died too just on that day alone.

The media should cover Jenny’s death and her baby’s death with as much intensity as any boy in a balloon drifting over the Rockies. When we are forced to confront what we are allowing to happen in homes and clinics and hospitals all across this land, we will perhaps find it less easy to dismiss as anomaly.

Healthcare is a basic human right. Whatever stops the human rights transgressions against our citizens – our Jenny’s and our babies — that allow this should be halted immediately and by force, if necessary, and then fixed properly so that all citizens of these great United States have equal protection under the law of their human right to healthcare. Immediately extending care through a Medicare for All like effort would be a less drastic but equally effective fix. A non-profit, single standard of high quality healthcare for all. Jenny would be alive today and so would her baby daughter.

Our government should grant, provide and protect the right to healthcare as if it meant the future of our nation or its failure. Because that is exactly what it does mean.

Donna Smith is a community organizer for the California Nurses Association and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.


  1. Rosina N. Grignetti on October 19, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    I grow more angry by the minute and feel so powerless… but I keep
    talking about this with people I know. I wonder if anyone has suggested the idea of us not paying our premiums? This obviously must be well-planned; just imagine if we stop paying-even if just for a month or two-the insurees who are the most coveted by the insurance companies(the ones who don’t get sick). I welcome feedback!

    • JamesE927 on October 21, 2009 at 1:16 pm

      I’m all for this, lets all stop paying our premiums and see what the bloody insurance companies will do then!!!

    • KM on October 24, 2009 at 11:47 am

      Actually, that’s not a bad idea. If we cannot get single-payer even under Obama, then a nation wide stop-pay movement might be the way to go. It would be worth it just to see the looks on the faces of all those smug weasels in the insurance industry, not to mention their bought-and-paid for Republicans lackeys, who if they were truly serious about competition would have done away with the insurance industry’s anti trust designation when THEY had the overwhelming majority last time around.

  2. Richard Heckler on October 25, 2009 at 3:23 am

    Why pay the most expensive medical insurance industry in the world anything?

    Never never never forget… It is the private medical insurance industry that cancels YOUR medical insurance AFTER taking YOUR MONEY for years. Years and hundreds of thousands dollars later no one has any guarantee of any coverage.

    Not only that if an employer makes a switch there is no guarantee any coverage or same coverage will be available.

    Face it what wayyyyyyyyyyyyy too many healthy citizens pay out to insurance companies in a 12 month period they would never spend that much in 12 months no way jose’… with very very few exceptions. So why are we giving a middle man so much money? What’s the point?

    Paying out all that money is no guarantee the most expensive insurance industry will stick with you when the bills come rolling in.

    Think about it. It’s so many many many working people WITH insurance that are being forced into bankruptcy. Why pay an insurance company anything?

  3. sharlette on October 26, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    America is supposed to be about equal rights for all . I don’t see that when I had to stop working to care for my now invalid husband . I cannot afford 250 dollars a month for 5000 deductible insurance . So I worry and pray I don’t ever need healthcare . I had a biopsy four years ago which was benign , but it has been an issue for one insurance company . I want universal coverage ….and just because a child is born in America should not make him a citizen unless at least one parent is . MY husband has spent weeks in hospitol for treatments that could have been given at home , but insurance would not pay for them unless he was hospitolized . It is senseless!

  4. khpdave on October 26, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    I hate the company I work for. We just took a 6% pay cut, lost several big benefits and my boss flatly denys time-off requests for important family occasions. I know my company could opertate profitably AND treat its employees with compassion but it won’t.

    Unless I find a better company to work for, I’m not goint to stay home from work to teach them a lesson. I’m also not wishing there was one gigantic benevelent company that every American worked for either.

    Our current healthcare system (insurance providers, delivery of services, tort laws) needs major overhauling indeed but creating a single payer insurer (come on, just say it – Nationalized Health Insurance) doesn’t seem to be a purdent move.

    Private health care providers have been conveniently made out to be grotesque profit machine with huge profit margins. This article is interesting to consider:

    There are certain benefits to our current healthcare structure that we would be stupid not to retain (Quality of Care comes to mind). Lets be careful not to throw this baby out with the bath water.

  5. RB on October 27, 2009 at 11:54 am

    You mention several times in your article that “health care is a basic human right”. How do you justify that? It is not. The only basic human rights we have are to be born and to die. Now if by your definition of “human rights” means the United States then I can follow you better. However what is equal in the United States? I don’t see any lower or middle class ( I am middle by the way ) complaining that the upper class pay significantly higher percentage of income to taxes. For some reason that is OK. Everyone demonizes the insurance industry as the problem. IT IS A BUSINESS. Based on the premise our country was founded on. FREE ENTERPRISE. If you want to blame someone look at your so-called savior in this. The government. They can’t run Medicare or Medicaid without plundering the funds ( taxes ) set aside for those programs. Why do you think they are failing? Simple. Misappropriation of funds. Are you really so naive to think the same thing won’t happen with this? There is a problem but universal healthcare is NOT the answer.