Nothing ‘Fine’ about health department chief

The abject indifference of Michael Fine, M.D., Director  of the Rhode Island Department of Health, toward those in chronic pain who require an internal pain pump managed in-home, was evident in the commentary authored recently by Tracy Breton in the Providence Journal. Her piece recounted the fiasco for Bea Burns, age 55, who has advanced multiple sclerosis. She has been bedridden for 17 years and, as of 11 months ago, has to be carried out on a stretcher by ambulance to a hospital for her pain killer medication refill.  Beginning in 2009, Ms. Burns could no longer ride in a car due to uncontrollable muscle spasms. Every day a home health care aide comes to her bedside to feed her lunch and dinner. A visiting nurse bathes and changes her.
Further documenting the insensitivity of the so-called health professionals running the Health Department is the story of Vianna Hurley, 44, afflicted with acute pancreatitis and who now has to be  driven to Boston to get her pain pump refilled, a trip which recently took more than five hours.
And just why were these treks necessary? Both women previously had been serviced by Pentec Health Inc, which provides in-home nursing services in 28 states. Pentec provided the services for free, using a RI-licensed nurse and pharmacy until the  bureaucrats at the Department  stopped it. The Health Department  insisted that Pentec get a certificate of need and open an office here, even though nobody would go to that office since the service was for home care. Pentec had to file an application, attend three hearings, and spend $100,000 in legal fees and $1000 a month for an office it didn’t need. Meanwhile, the Department has sat on the application for more than seven months and still has not rendered a decision. Pentec has concluded that it was not welcome here. Common sense has been trumped by bureaucracy.
So, patients with chronic pain have to be shuffled out of their homes with no end in sight. Meanwhile, there are about 425 Rhode Islanders waiting in the wings for similar mistreatment when they become bedridden, since nobody else—including visiting nurses—is trained to provide these services.
Fortunately, Representative Joseph McNamara(D-Warwick), Chair of the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare has called a hearing in October to find out why these obstacles to servicing severely ill patients happened. The Department of Health, when asked to comment on the situation, offered an insipid non-answer, shifting the blame to Pentec for withdrawing its application after this stonewall. The spokeswoman’s comment reeked of a lack of accountability and reflection as to the agency’s callousness toward those suffering, and its inaction in training replacements.
You can be sure that if some political luminary had a relative in chronic pain that action would have been forthcoming. Regular Rhode Islanders are not chopped liver and should get pain management at home forthwith. Please contact the Governor at governor@governor.ri.gov and  Representative McNamara at mcnamara@rilin.state.ri.us and demand action and compassion for those needing in-home pain management. Director Fine’s inaction is not fine.

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