Innovation Ecosystem/Opinion

When the sweetness of life triumphs

Why all of us still live off hope

Photo by Richard Asinof

Amy Copperman, Esq., executive director of MLPB, expresses her belief that we all live off hope.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 3/18/24
A personal reflection on the best ways to fight off an attack of the blue meanies, at a time when health care delivery in Rhode Island is falling apart and we are all learning how to cope with heavy traffic.
What can you do to prevent yourself from getting stuck in the bureaucratic maze that is health care delivery? What will be revealed during the first of two public hearings on the proposed sale of Roger Williams Medical Center and Lour Lady of Fatima hospitals? How can we re-engage in having difficult conversations around diversity in Rhode Island? Will the unplanned emergency of having to rebuild the Washington Bridge be used as an excuse by legislators not to increase the low rates paid to Medicaid providers?
One of the best traditions about growing up in Western Massachusetts is maple sugaring, when small farmers would engage in a time- and labor-intensive practice of harvesting maple sap from groves of sugar maple trees in the hill towns of Western Massachusetts.
One of the best memories stored within the recesses of my brain, touching all of my senses – the smell, the taste of inhaling clouds of sap being boiled down in an open pan under a star-filled night, having spent the morning and afternoon trudging through snow banks to collect the heavy buckets of maple sap. It is a 40-to-one ratio – 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup – and the boiling of sap is time intensive.
Logger Peter and his friend John would invite me. So, too, did truck farmers Bob and Diane, who would pay for their two-week California summer vacation from harvesting the maple groves at neighboring farms. I was happy to be working as an unpaid volunteer in late March, staying up all night stoking the wood fire and stirring the sap. It was always a tonic for the soul of who I was, a reminder that there were some things in life and in nature that captured the sweetness of our lives on Earth.

PROVIDENCE – There are days when I find my world – and our world – are being shadowed by an unrelenting darkness, born of greed and enmity.

The darkness is more than a temporary eclipse of the sun. It is a landscape captured by three lines of a poem that were written by Tomas Transtomer, as translated by Robert Bly:

“I open door number two.

Friends! You drank some darkness

And became visible.”

I report on the landscape of health care in Rhode Island, where the forces of darkness can be unrelenting. Preserving my health – and reporting on efforts to preserve our health care delivery system – require a perseverance of spirit, a dogged tenaciousness in the pursuit of truth and justice.

I believe that our lives are not a game show, nor are they a video game or a comic book adventure. And, they are not a parade, marching down city streets to celebrate our collective drunkenness.

This week, on Tuesday afternoon, March 19, the first day of Spring, the vernal equinox, when the Earth’s axis is tilted neither toward nor away from the sun, resulting in a nearly equal amount of sunlight and darkness at all latitudes, the R.I. Department of Health and the R.I. Attorney General’s office will hold the first of two public hearings at Rhode Island College to examine the proposal by the Atlanta, Georgia-based enterprise, The Centurion Foundation, to purchase two Rhode Island hospitals, Roger Williams Medical Center and Our Lady of Fatima, under the legal requirements of the Hospital Conversions Act.

The legal and financial drama pits the legal team of R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha, under statute, the state’s public health advocate, against the legal forces representing the private equity industry, which has developed into what some reporters such as The Prospect’s Moe Tkacik have described as a “ponzi scheme” to buy up hospitals, hollow out their cash flow, rent their real estate back to them at impossible-to-pay-back loans, forcing many such hospitals to close down. [See link below to “Quackonomics.”]

Just across the border in Massachusetts, the adventures of Steward Health Care, documented by The Boston Globe, have told a similar tale of woe of what can happen when the forces of private equity take over financially troubled hospitals.

A toxic shield.  
Finding the inner strength not to be eaten alive and succumb to the forces of darkness requires a reporter’s emotional armor – creating an impervious toxic shield, given the propensity of elected officials to prevaricate, to deflect, to express shock when confronted with the truth – say, decades of poor, incomplete repairs to the infrastructure girding the Washington Bridge.

Two friends reported that they were sickened by the “flu” last week, forcing them to stay home from work for more than a week. When they told me that they were sick, I believed them. I knew that they were not exaggerating, and I offered them my home remedy for congested sinuses and a wicked sore throat: fresh-pressed apple cider, heated to a boil, then allowed to simmer, adding a dollop of honey and two slices of lemon.

I do not know the science of why it works, but it does work, in my experience. My son will testify that I am a firm believer in this concoction as a kind of cure-all. Quite simply, it works.

Fighting off an attack of the blue meanies  
I have a similar kind of remedy that I take when I am overwhelmed by the virus of greed and enmity in our world. I sit down and talk with other reporters and with community advocates to hear what they have to say. I met with Amy Copperman, executive director of MLPB, on Friday afternoon, March 15, at Seven Stars on Hope Street, to listen to insights about the current health care landscape.

Last week I also met with an award-winning national reporter at Aidan’s in Bristol (she's an expert in the highways and byways of private equity scams in health care) to recalibrate my bearings. I did a very Rhode Island “thing”: I ordered calamari with hot peppers. And, I engaged in an astonishing give-and-take. The reporter, being very good at what she does, grilled me with perceptive questions. I shared some of my personal war stories about the world of journalism; it turned out that we knew lots and lots of fellow reporters in common.

I pitched her some ideas for Rhode Island stories for her to consider; she was intrigued. Among them was a profile of Attorney General Neronha’s legal team focused on health care: women who had gone toe-to-toe with Purdue Pharma, McKinsey, and Medical Properties Trust, among others, and won.

I am perhaps more hopeful than she is that, by creating a news narrative that disrupts the status quo, we can “fight the power” in Spike Lee style.

The conversation, for me, proved to be a tonic.

Conversations ahead
Next week I will have the opportunity to sit down and talk with Angela Ankoma, Vice President and Executive Director of the Equity Leadership Initiative at the Rhode Island Foundation.

At a time when work on equity has provoked fierce pushback from conservative politicians across the nation, I am looking forward to listening to what Ankoma can share with me about her current work, providing an opportunity for me to re-engage in a conversation that the two of us have been having during the last decade. Stay tuned.


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