A few days ago, in the midst of a lockdown because of the coronavirus Corvid-19 epidemic, a devastating tornado struck my hometown of Jonesboro, Arkansas. In part because everyone had been forced to stay home, no lives were lost although The Mall at Turtle Creek, the virtual town center if you don’t count Walmart’s, was pretty much flattened, cars were crumpled, and a passing freight train was turned into shards.
But there were two other reasons no lives were lost. First, residents took all the precautions they could because they believed the local news media, which warned in advance of the coming tornado. I was prepared hours before in the relative safety of locked-down Manhattan because a friend of mine posted photos on Facebook of her beautiful spring flowers because she realized they would drown in the coming rain.
Secondly, people knew what protections to take. Porsha McCoy and four others, for example, huddled together in a bathroom. “We just protected each other, we didn’t have anything to cover ourselves, but each other,” she said. “We could feel things, like we was going to get blown away. By the time we opened our eyes all we could see is the sky.”
Killer storms are as well accepted as summer heat in Jonesboro. In 1968, a tornado killed 34 people and injured 300. Five years later, in 1973, another one smashed through a commercial district, destroyed five schools, injured 200, and mercifully killed only five people.
After the tornado hit March 28, my relatives in Little Rock texted a video of the twister swirling through Jonesboro’s outskirts and setting off a fiery blast. This burst sent me to the Internet where I found a Jonesboro story from days before that made me teary. A local commercial landlord, Clay Young, told his tenants not to pay their April rent so they could pay their employees instead. Surely there were other such kindnesses in the U.S. last month, although I haven’t read or heard of them in the news. The inspiring stories that have overshadowed everything else concern the valor of nurses and doctors risking their own lives to serve those racked with the contagion in our ill-equipped, poorly prepared hospitals.
That is what makes a report from Bloomberg news that hospitals are threatening and firing doctors and nurses who tell the press about their working conditions and the state of patient care during the coronavirus pandemic. Equally alarming is a revelation from ProPublica that many staffing companies are cutting the pay and other compensation of emergency room doctors and nurses, despite the relief these businesses will receive from last week’s $2 trillion stimulus package that includes deferring payroll taxes, suspending reimbursement cuts, and receiving advance Medicare payments.
How have our hospitals sunk so low when they are led by top administrators so capable that in the New York metropolitan region their annual salaries each top $1 million, based on a 2016 survey? When this pandemic ends, we have to face how careless our nation has become, which includes the cost-saving short-sightedness of the hospital industry. Without public pressure, there will not be the needed storm of reform. Devastation, as the people of Jonesboro know, always comes again.
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