By Michael Kaufman
Is it just me or are we being inundated by an unusually large amount of bad news lately? Trayvon Martin….the murderous attack on Jewish schoolchildren in France….the ongoing carnage in Syria….escalating oil and gas prices…the right-wing legislative assault on women’s healthcare….Need I go on?
And speaking of healthcare: Will the Supreme Court really strike down the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) so insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and for-profit healthcare institutions and providers can go back to doing “business as usual”? (Business as usual: denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and sons and daughters above age 21; restoring the “donut hole” so prescription drug costs will soar for many people with chronic diseases; and millions of Americans having to go without care because they can’t afford it.)
Closer to home, we see Orange County political officials planning to sell Valley View (the county nursing home renowned for providing quality care) to a private, for-profit business. At the same time, Orange County Executive Ed Diana is still pushing for construction of a new, multimillion dollar government office building rather than repair the existing storm-damaged facility in Goshen. I happen to agree with those who think the building is a funny-looking eyesore rather than a historic landmark and/or work of art….but that is beside the point. As lawn signs around the county proclaim: Just fix it!
And the Valley View situation is a reflection of the ongoing underfunding of public health at all levels of government. An analysis released by Trust for America’s Health, a think tank supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that federal funding for public health has been “insufficient” for the past six years. At the same time, public health budgets at the state and local levels have been cut at drastic rates. A recent study conducted by the National Association of County and City Health Officials found significant cuts to programs, workforce and budgets at local health departments around the country. Since 2008, those departments have lost a total of 34,400 jobs due to layoffs and attrition. Combined state and local public health job losses total 49,310 since 2008.
Also closer to home, Governor Cuomo has refused to order an independent investigation into the fatal shooting of Michael Lembhard by police in Newburgh. Upon learning of the governor’s decision, Michael Sussman, attorney for the Lembhard family, said, “Today is a sad day and a day of a missed opportunity. The governor has chosen not to appoint a special prosecutor…. The result is that our community must trust the results of an investigation conducted by an agency, the Orange County DA’s office, with very close ties to the City of Newburgh Police Department, which relies on that department for many of its cases and which has every institutional interest in exonerating that department and its members in this and every other case.”
Sussman, who represented the family of D.J. Henry, the Pace College quarterback shot and killed by police in Westchester in October 2010, said “Michael’s death brings to mind other great tragedies which have affected too many families.” Nevertheless, he urged family members and witnesses to cooperate with the local investigation and he called on Newburgh residents to use “peaceful and non-violent means to demonstrate their profound anger at Michael’s death. Only by the exercise of restraint and respect for human life can we honor the fallen.
“The City of Newburgh, said Sussman, should hire an independent law firm to investigate and determine whether the officers who killed Lembhard violated departmental rules and regulations “and, if so, should take disciplinary measures….in a manner consistent with the rule of law and the due process rights of the officers.” Lemnhard’s family, he noted, “is deeply angry and frustrated at the loss of Michael…. Our imperative as their brothers and sisters and our responsibility as residents of this county remains to see that justice is done….We will spare no resource toward that objective.”
Sussman heads up the Orange County Democratic Alliance (http://www.democraticalliance.com/), which is active on a number of fronts to make life in our county better for all of its residents. And for those interested, Occupy Orange will meet Thursday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m.at theInteractive Museum, 23 Center St., Middletown. Organizers request that you bring “a positive spirit, and your ideas about what we can accomplish together.” Maybe some good news will emerge as a result of their activities.
Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.