Winston Holds Medical Bill Fundraisers: Time To Question Profit Driven Hospitals

There have been a couple of high-profile fundraisers in Winston recently to help folks saddled with crippling medical bills. It shows that there are a lot of people in this town who care about others in need. The spirit of giving, the willingness to help others is reminiscent of brotherhood that Moravians were known for when they settled Salem 200 years ago.

During the last week of April various Downtown Winston restaurant owners and their workers re-opened Skippys for eight days to raise money for Skippy’s owner Mike Rothman. Rothman was forced to close his popular hot dog restaurant, known for its one of a kind pretzel buns in February when he was diagnosed with cancer. Rothman’s brain cancer was treated at Forsyth Medical Center and then he was transferred to Pennsylvania so that he could recover near his parents. Mike’s Week was a huge undertaking that raised over $110,000 to help cover Rothman’s medical expenses.

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From a little Baptist hospital nestled in Ardmore, Baptist has certainly grown.

This past Sunday the Muddy Creek Cafe had a concert/fundraiser for Jay Stephens the longtime owner of Ziggy’s. Stephens brought some great acts to Winston over the years. When the new Ziggy’s at the corner of Trade and MLK closed in February, Stephens’ last show was a fundraiser for the family of Ibrahim Myers. Myers was a beloved friend to many in the 27107. He was hit by a car while riding his bike in 2011. Myers eventually succumbed to his injuries, he passed away in January of this year. But Myers’ medical bills lived on. It’s ironic that last Sunday at the Muddy Creek Cafe it was Stephens’ turn to be on the receiving end of a fundraiser.

Again, kudos to everyone who gave their time and money to help Rothman, Stephens and Myers. But we must address the elephant in the room, catastrophic illness shouldn’t lead to massive debt and financial ruin. At some point we will all die and most likely before that time comes we will spend our fair share of time in a hospital. Some people, such as Ziggy’s former owner Jay Stephens have to deal with one health issue after another. Here is an excerpt from Stephens’ Go Fund Me Page:

In March of 2015 I decided to have an elective corrective surgery on my leg. Unfortunately six weeks into my recovery I was diagnosed with vocal chord cancer. The radiation treatments for my cancer caused complications in the healing process of my leg,  resulting  in 5 additional surgeries over the last twelve months including a final surgery to remove my cancerous vocal chord.

Because of the surgeries and the down time from not working, I have not only not had income from my business I have amassed a great number of medical bills and must continue to pay for a daily caregiver. This has now become insurmountable so a number of my friends have come to me and felt that asking for help via GoFundMe would be a great way to help me to recover not only physically but financially. I want to get back to working so I can not only support myself but all my friends who need work as well that I have provided to the community through live entertainment for the last 23 years.

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Ziggy’s last show.

People that have the unlucky lot in life to endure one health issue after another shouldn’t be burned with huge healthcare bills. We need a single-payer healthcare system, not the profit driven healthcare system that we have. Our current system provides the illusion of coverage. Even if you have good insurance, even Cadillac coverage, if  you spend a few days in the hospital, you’re going to leave with a bloated bill that you can’t understand and will probably have great difficulty paying.

Politicians and business leaders in Winston love to talk about the city’s flourishing innovation economy. But off the chart healthcare costs stifle innovation. Think about Mike Rothman and Jay Stephens, they’re entrepreneurs who made positive contributions to our city. Now due to illness, something they have no control over they’re on the precipice of financial ruin and reliant on the charity of their friends.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County’s two largest employers are Wake Forest Baptist and Forsyth Medical Center, two mammoth hospitals. Both hospitals have grown largely at the expense of patients who are forced to give their life savings and go into debt to pay Baptist and Forsyth’s exorbitant bills. There’s a long list of people and organizations that gave to Mike Rothman, I didn’t see Baptist or Forsyth on that list.

Their non-profit status exempts them from most taxes. Hospitals take their “excess revenue” and invest them, making the strength of their stock portfolios almost as important as how they run their hospitals. Executives at Baptist and Forsyth get compensation on par with what executives in the corporate world bring home. It’s hard to comprehend just how far we have strayed from community owned centers of charity care that Baptist and Forsyth both began as.

Our healthcare system is a huge national problem that needs fixing. There may not be much that much that we can do locally to change things. But we need to at least call our profit-driven, patient-bankrupting healthcare system for what it is. Mike’s Week was an incredible week, something that our city should be proud of. Charity can be a good thing, but charity is rarely enough. We need to agitate for a healthcare system that puts patients’ needs above institutional greed.



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