After the conference in Dallas, prior to driving south to the city of Waco, Susan and I had the opportunity to visit the new science museum founded by Texas mega-personality Ross Perot. In the 1960’s Perot founded Electronic Data Systems (EDS), which was the first company to offer network computer services to businesses, who could not invest in their own computers, which were so expensive as to be unaffordable for anybody but multi-millionaires. Perot offered what is now known as “cloud” computing services, decades before the technology developed so as to became affordable to the public at large. Apart from his failure as a presidential candidate in 1992, Perot has been a generous philanthropist. His museum is an excellent community project.
The museum’s exhibits include: dinosaurs, birds, gems and crystals, global wildlife, climate simulations, earthquake simulations, and exhibits suitable for hands-on participation by children. For example, in the bird exhibit one could put on 3D glasses while looking at a large video screen. Standing in the prescribed spot, the person wearing the glasses could flap their arms like a bird, and a bird onscreen would mirror the wing-like movements as it flew over a mountain landscape. In the earthquake simulator, a group of people could feel three different strength earthquake movements in the simulator floor. In the gem exhibit, hundreds of museum-quality gem specimens were on display, including the third-largest raw gold nugget in the world, weighing 51 pounds/24 kilograms. Also at the museum, we viewed a 3D movie about extreme climates on the various planets in our solar system. Adults and children can learn many things about science at this outstanding museum.
Central Texas Veterans Authority (VA) Health System
Dr. Susan was hired to present four training sessions for staff over two days at the VA hospital in Waco, Texas. We spent the first day touring the facility and meeting the different department heads, to explain what we would be doing in the staff sessions. This was our first time to work personally in a VA facility, which is quite different from the typical hospital. We learned a lot about the history of the VA in general and this facility in particular, which was founded in 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression.
The VA health system is America’s only true government-managed (aka “socialist”) healthcare system. The original concept was, that for soldiers who risked their lives in wars and who sustained injuries, that they would be provided free healthcare services for life. The central Texas VA facility consists of numerous buildings spread over a fifty-acre campus. Within a decade after its founding, the hospital was receiving a steady stream of injured soldiers, many of whom were “shell-shocked”, the original term for what is now called PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Before the end of World War II, the hospital housed over three thousand patients. After the war, there were plans to expand the facility to house eight thousand patients, many of whom were expected to spend the rest of their lives there. But due to politics, post-war budget cuts, and improvements in mental health treatment methods, the expansion was never completed. Today the facility houses only three hundred in-patients, plus offering treatments to out-patients.
For historical perspective: The US lost approximately 500,000 soldiers in WWII. We lost approximately 50,000 in the Vietnam War. We have lost around 5,000 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. By contrast, Russia lost 20,000,000 soldiers in WWII, forty times as many casualties as America. On the basis of this much greater sacrifice, Russians universally believe that they won WWII for the allies by resisting Hitler’s invasion and breaking the back of the German military.
We learned that until the 1950’s, there were no good treatments for shell-shocked soldiers. Psychotic patients were given electro-shock treatments and were restrained in their beds by chains, to protect them from harming themselves or other patients. When effective drugs were developed to treat the psychological injuries of war, and when restraints were reduced, those original chains were melted down and recast as bells. The current director of the VA has one of the bells made from those original restraint chains.
Unfortunately, the VA has been forced to fight for its existence against political forces, who want to abolish any form of government healthcare. The cutbacks started under President Reagan. Some VA facilities were closed. The VA’s reputation was also damaged by the military’s early refusal to cover Vietnam War veterans who claimed to have been harmed by Agent Orange, a toxic defoliate used against North Vietnamese soldiers, but which was lethal to American soldiers as well. Eventually, the large number of Agent Orange sufferers could no longer be refused, and the military relented and started to treat victims. Unfortunately, many Vietnam veterans who had been refused treatment were unable to reintegrate into society, becoming homeless, drug abusers, or committing suicide. Currently, the VA is seeking to take better care of Iraq and Afghanistan “wounded warriors” than they did of the Vietnam veterans.
“Healing healthcare” is defined as healthcare that “heals as well as cures.” We named our company based on this term. Most healthcare is focused on “curing” specific medical conditions, while often neglecting the “healing” that must address the emotional and psychological needs of the patient. Because so many war veterans suffer from mental impairment, PTSD, and other consequences of their battle experiences, the VA is unique in embracing the challenge of providing healing as well as curing, which often requires extended (months or years) of treatment, with the goal of healing the veterans sufficiently for them to reenter civil society. Healing is possible even in the absence of curing, in the case of amputees, blindness, deafness, and other wounds of war.
Everyone is aware that hospitals in general are under financial pressures. Though many of the reforms mandated under “Obama-care” (the Affordable Care Act) have yet to take effect, the goal is to remove the long-standing incentive for hospitals to perform unnecessary tests and procedures, based on the “fee-for-service” financial incentive, which undercuts preventive medicine and is partially responsible for Americans paying twice as much for their healthcare as other advanced countries. The VA is refreshingly immune to these perverse incentives, due to the fact that there is no “profit” to be made by treating patients unnecessarily. Since all employees are salaried, they can do their jobs without being threatened by the usual capitalist forces (profit/loss, competition, financial insecurity) that afflicts civilian hospitals and their employees.
VA hospitals have many of the same challenges as other hospitals in terms of how to allocate their resources while coping with escalating costs. We were very impressed with the level of care and the commitment of the VA staff members we met and worked with. We toured a dementia unit, a rehabilitation unit, a locked-down mental health unit, and the dentistry unit. We did not have time to visit the hospice unit or the blind-treatment unit. All the employees seemed completely dedicated to their work.
Just as the commercial healthcare industry ignores indigent non-insured people (approximately 50 million of them), it ignores veterans who need long-term care, especially mental health care and rehabilitation. The industry can’t make any profit from those soldiers who, because of their injuries, are unable to hold a job and secure insurance. After having worked in the VA hospital, I’m more convinced than ever, that our American profit-driven healthcare system is a travesty. Just look at the salaries earned by insurance company and pharmaceutical corporation CEO’s. Look at the huge skyscrapers that house these companies’ administrations. All the money that finances these systems has been diverted, more precisely, stolen, from the provision of care to the average person who needs to use the healthcare system.
Susan and I consider it to be a great privilege to work in healthcare. Though we have had relative success in introducing our CARE Channel to hundreds of hospitals, we are still only in fifteen percent of the market. The need for music and nature to soothe patients is greater than ever. When we are hired to give presentations to groups such as this, we are not permitted to make a “pitch” of the CARE Channel. In other words, our presentations are intended to be educational, not commercial. We are allowed to offer our channel afterwards to the administrators, since they are the ones who have the power to make a financial decision, not the nurses.
The city of Waco has had a traumatic history. It became famous for being the home of David Kuresh and his “Branch Davidians”, who died in a mass suicidal fire after having been besieged by federal agents. Just one week ago, a tremendous explosion in a local fertilizer factory killed fourteen people and injured two hundred. Nonetheless, the local news is filled with reports of local citizens helping their neighbors to recover from the tragedy. The general social atmosphere is very similar to that of Georgia, where I spent my first two decades. The people are very warm and friendly. Though I wouldn’t choose to live here, I felt quite “at home.”
ALVIN M HARRIETApril 24, 2013 at 8:15 am
Another intelligent thoughtful and thought-provoking blog. You’re becoming an “architectural photographer” as well as a nature photographer! HBS (PS to Charlie – Thought you’d enjoy reading this.)
Henry EttmanApril 24, 2013 at 11:40 am
As always, Dallas, your blog is interesting, educational and entertaining. May 28 will be my own personal initiation into the inner workings of our hospital system, as I’ll be undergoing a hip replacement surgery at Doctors Hospital of Sarasota. From the literature I’ve been given, it looks like they are very patient-oriented, stressing open and detailed communication prior, during and after the hospital stay. It will be a very interesting experience, for sure, and I’ll be reporting back as it progresses.
Love to you and Susan,
Henry in Sarasota
Ronnie BeasleyApril 25, 2013 at 3:27 pm
thnx so much — very int’g — i’m now a resident at the veterans’ victory house nursing home in Walterboro, sc –thnx again.