A Public Hospital’s Saga (and How it Relates to Ed Reform)

On an icy morning, an oil tanker jackknifes on the highway. Drivers on either side have little time to react. The closest cars plow into the tanker. The ones that had some distance swerve to avoid the wreckage, colliding with other cars in adjacent lanes. Several raging fires burn high into the sky, lapping at the overpass where pedestrians are trapped in a ring of flame.

The nearest hospital is municipal, and it boasts a remarkably dedicated team. They haven’t won any awards, nor have their names been printed in the magazine saying their hospital is one of the country’s best. Their funding has been cut drastically over the last several years and they make the most of what they are given. Even though they’re not the top choice, they are the closest choice, and the emergency responders have determined that the vast majority of the victims on the highway need the most immediate hospital care they can get.

The first ambulance arrives carrying the most severely burned victim. Next, a helicopter brings another badly burned victim. The emergency room’s efficiency springs to life. All doctors and nurses overseeing patients who don’t need constant attention are ordered to stand by for more arrivals.

Another ambulance arrives, and then another. Pretty soon, the ER is overwhelmed with screaming, writhing burn victims, some with broken legs or backs. Others are unconscious from the pain. Others are dying as they wait. All demand attention for their needs, and the nurses and doctors, dedicated as they are, do their best to reach every single one. But the victims keep coming.

Realizing that this overwhelming influx of high-needs patients is too much for the staff to handle alone, the hospital administrator begins placing calls for more resources to be sent immediately – supplies, manpower, whatever it takes to save as many lives as possible.

The administrator pleads with the other hospitals, “Please, send anything you can. People are dying. We need help. We can’t do it alone.”

Private Hospital number one responds by saying, “We wish we could, but our patients can’t be inconvenienced by your needs. Sorry.”

Private Hospital number two responds by saying, “You obviously aren’t working hard enough. Stop complaining and do your job.”

Private Hospital number three responds by saying, “It’s exactly reasons like this why your entire staff should be fired!”

And so, without any help from the private hospitals – despite their seemingly endless supply of cash, superior technology, and opportunity to do right by those who need them most – the staff at the municipal hospital do what they’ve always done: their very best.

Thirty-six hours later, things have stabilized, but the staggering toll of being an underfunded, unassisted municipal hospital has taken its toll on the public who relied on it. Out of the 213 people brought in, more than half are dead. Many others are fighting infection and are, without the proper medicines, on the way to death, too.

In fact, by the time, one week later, the state has completed its investigation of the response to the highway fire, all but two victims – the first ones to arrive – are dead.

The recommendation is unequivocal: Phase the hospital out and, eventually, close it. After all, it is reasoned, they lost 211 out of the 213 lives brought to them. The administrator, chief of surgery, his best doctors, and 60% of the nurses are all fired. And besides, their record hasn’t been so good anyway since the new mayor took over.

Nowhere in the report is there mention of the hospital’s attempts at getting support to handle the aftermath of the fire (or their previous attempts at soliciting municipal funds). The media, in their castigation of the municipal hospital, neglect to cover the protesters chanting for increased funding (nor did they ever give serious coverage to previous rallies and petitions). Government officials all laud the phasing out and eventual closure of, “a hospital that is clearly failing our society.”

Would this ever happen to a hospital? Probably not.

But does it happen to schools? All the time.


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