A photo exhibit unveiled in the New Jersey State House June 17 highlights the stories of people who have lost their jobs — and subsequently their health insurance — and now face serious illness without medical coverage in this economic downturn.
The stories from around the state, accompanied by photographs by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Matt Rainey, describe individuals who, in many cases, worked for decades. Some continue to work but do not make enough money to pay insurance premiums. The patients talk about their struggles with diabetes, breast cancer, brain disorders and injury – all while living without health insurance.
“Our hospitals are seeing more and more patients who come to us without insurance,” said Alexander J. Hatala, president and CEO of Catholic Health East – New Jersey, which operates hospitals in Camden, Newark and Trenton. “Our mission is to heal, and we will not turn our backs on people because they have lost their jobs and medical coverage. We ask the legislators to remember these eight men and women — and many more like them across New Jersey — when they cast their votes for the budget.”
The exhibit opened the day before state legislators were scheduled to vote on funding for hospitals and for crucial health programs that provide care for patients without health insurance. Many of the patients in the exhibit are being helped by hospitals in the state.
Sen. Joseph Vitale, chairman of the senate health, human services and senior citizens committee, is the legislative sponsor of the exhibit.
“I hope my colleagues take note of this photo exhibit, and recognize that as a State we have a moral obligation to provide a comprehensive health care safety net for those people who would otherwise fall through the cracks,” Vitale said. “During this time of economic crisis, people are struggling to get by and unfortunately we’ve heard story after story about people putting health care on the back-burner, whether it’s the small employer who can’t afford to insure his employees, or the individual with chronic illness who has to ration prescription drugs. These are compelling stories.”
The photo exhibit includes a profile of a botanist who lost her job shortly before a recurrence of breast cancer; a mainframe computer operator who lost his job and cannot afford test strips for his diabetes; a psychologist who could no longer afford insurance and did not know what to do when her daughter, a talented soccer player, fractured her ankle on the field. Many of the people fall into the so-called “gap” years — just a few years too young for Medicare but not able to find full-time work, despite years in the workforce.
The state’s hospitals face critical economic times just as they are needed most by New Jersey residents. Thirteen hospitals in the state have closed their doors in the past five years. Five others have declared bankruptcy.
“Our efforts to take care of the poor and uninsured in New Jersey is a partnership between hospitals and the state of New Jersey,” Hatala said. “We must continue to work together to make sure that everyone in New Jersey who needs treatment will get it, regardless of their financial circumstances.”
Catholic Health East – New Jersey, the state’s largest faith-based hospital system, operates Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden and Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County in Willingboro, St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, and St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton,
Other exhibit supporters include AARP, Catholic HealthCare Partnership of New Jersey and New Jersey Healthcare Institute New Jersey.