HHS Appointee Visits SE Wellness Center to Hear Seniors Healthcare Concerns

Denise Rolark-Barnes | 1/7/2009, 6:50 a.m.

With the Nation€s Capital gearing up for President-elect Barack Obama€s massive inaugural celebration, a prelude to the daunting agenda his new administration will face regarding healthcare was the topic of discussion this week in Southeast, D.C.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Obama€s choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services, held one of a series of discussions on Dec. 30 at the Congress Heights Senior Wellness Center, to get a €grass-roots€ perspective of the healthcare problems Americans are facing.

Daschle, who lost his Senate seat last November, is heading Obama€s Transition Team on Healthcare Reform, and has been asked to direct the White House Office of Health Reform, in an effort to lead the new administration€s attempt to win support for health care reform in Congress next year.

Over the past two weeks leading up to and through the Christmas holidays, Daschle said more than 85,000 discussions have been held with people across the country in their homes, places of business and community town halls €to give us ideas for how we can fix our system.€

€This is a transformational moment,€ Daschle said during a YouTube video interview on the Change.gov website. According to Daschle, €real opportunities for major change€ in healthcare exist, and inviting the American people to participate in the discussion is important to the process of reforming the country€s fractured health care system.

More than 25 seniors, most of whom live in Ward 8, sat in a circle facing Daschle and officials from Providence Hospital, who coordinated the mid-morning discussion and who also manage Congress Heights and two additional senior wellness centers in the District. The seniors shared their personal experiences and offered solutions to the multiplicity of problems and concerns they have resulting from a growing need for health care accompanied with aging.

Daschle kicked-off the discussion by asking, €When you go to the doctor, do you get in right a way?€ A resounding, €NO!€ echoed around the table, followed by complaints of €sitting and waiting€ and lots of papers to fill out before a doctor can be seen.

€I came here because I want it to be known that we need a good hospital in our community,€ one resident said. €We need a state of the art facility because we have a lot of elderly and children in this community.€

€I want to know what can be done about testing for Alzheimer€s,€ asked Alethia Campbell, who said her family members have been stricken by the disease. €My family is loaded with Alzheimer€s,€ she said, €and I feel I am going to be a victim of it, too. Who is going to take care of me?€ she asked.

A discussion of the disease which has a debilitating effects on it victims and is the leading cause of death among the elderly. Nearly the entire group said they want to age at home and a chorus agreed that the care in long-term nursing care facilities is €horrible.€

€What happened to the Candy Stripe girls?€ asked Mildred Lockridge, a senior who lives just blocks away from wellness center. She said she remembers the impact these volunteers had in improving the overall health of patients and suggested that the Obama administration look at bringing back this program and others that help make people well.