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Archive for April, 2011

Free Health Clinic for the Uninsured at the Tacoma Dome on April 30.   The National Association of Free Clinics (NAFC), in partnership with the Washington Free Clinic Association, (WFCA) will be holding a one-day free clinic on Saturday, April 30, 2011 in the Tacoma Dome. The upcoming C.A.R.E. (Communities Are Responding Everyday) Clinic will offer free primary and preventative health care services to an estimated 1,200 uninsured adult residents of the Seattle-Tacoma area. Appointments are required  and can be made by calling 1-877-233-5159 toll free. Volunteer clinicians are still needed and can sign up on the  NAFC website.

Microsoft changes disability policy following KING 5 report.   Microsoft announced  today that it  is changing its short-term disability policy, following a KING 5 News report about the employee who was denied paid leave to undergo surgery for a brain tumor.  According to the new report, the company now says it will pay its employees short-term disability regardless of their performance reviews, effective immediately.

The DEA’s Second National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day will include sites across Washington State. For one day only, April 30, unused medicines can be disposed of  between the hours 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. of at locations around the state. But there is more to the issue than a one-time event or quick fixes. Prime-time TV ads  for the event, sponsored by  SMARxTDisposal, a project of  the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America  also advise how to  dispose of  drugs year-round. The solution they offer is to  mix the meds with household waste and water in plastic zipper bags, them tossing in the trash.  Getting medicines out of circulation before they can be used or abused for recreational and/or criminal purposes , and contaminate our groundwaters is a serious concern.  But for three years running, pharma lobbying has succeeded in defeating  bills in Washington State that would have created  a permanent medicine take-back program. Modeled after programs in Europe and Canada ( including in neighboring British Columbia)  supported by small fees from the pharmaceutical industry, the WA bills had broad support from law enforcement agencies, local governments, health care professionals, environmental groups and substance abuse prevention programs. The Take Back Your Meds coalition  lists a few  temporary current  Rx drop-off locations, and  has vowed to keep up the fight.

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On tonight’s evening news, King 5 TV, our local CBS affiliated carried a story about a Microsoft worker who lost his job after being diagnosed with leukemia.  Duncan Sutherland came forward after after seeing another report the night before about  Ken Knightley, a Microsoft worker who is now being denied paid leave to undergo treatment for a brain tumor.   Knightley told reporters that he was informed that his request for paid leave under the company’s short-term disability plan, was denied because at Microsoft  links disability pay to performance reviews.  When Knightley’s severe symptoms had caused him to miss work for medical care, he had been unable to fulfill some project deadlines. He then received a negative performance review, despite his excellent track record and promotions during his 11-year tenure with the company.  His future uncertain, he now also may lose his home if he needs to go out on long-term disability, for which there is a 6-month waiting period.  Sutherland shared that his own experience was similar, and  King 5 reports that they have been contacted by other former Microsoft employees who shared similar experiences. Microsoft has declined to speak to the media, stating it cannot discuss personnel matters.

Listening to these stories was a déjà vu experience for me on an issue that still doesn’t seem to be going away. Fifteen years ago this month I was laid off from my job at a large private child & family service agency after being diagnosed with lymphoma. During several weeks of  diagnostic tests, I’d re-arranged my work schedule in collaboration with my co-workers and supervisor. One of the administrators had asked me what kind of accommodations  I needed, and I indicated my need for a flexible schedule.  I took off 5 days for the first cycle of chemotherapy in order to rest up for returning to work. When I came back the following Monday, I was called into a meeting where I was told that my job had been eliminated , effective that week. I was not offered an exit interview, not given  information on how to sign up for COBRA, nor advised that I was eligible to receive benefits from the disability plan I’d been paying into over the years.  I was not allowed to either use or cash out my several months-worth of accrued sick and vacation leave, and I later learned that an request by my co-workers to donate sick leave to me had been denied by the agency.

I pursued legal action and had to endure a mediation session where the employer lied , claiming that they had no idea that I was sick and that the department that I worked in was being shut down and my job was simply the first one to be eliminated. The employer further claimed that this was part of a secret business plan that employees had not been told about, as we had been given a written document describing the expansion of the department.  Although my attorney felt  my case was strong, the Bush-era EEOC issued a negative ruling, saying that they could not second guess a business plan. At this point, my condition was worsening and the attorney urged me to settle , to avoid a protracted  and expensive case. Later I learned  that there had been agency employees at other sites who also had been laid off when they got sick. A  memo was evidently later circulated  expressing regrets that some  situations may not have been been handled appropriately, and  instructing supervisors on how to avoid  future untoward situations.

Over the years I have met and heard of others here in  western Washington who suffered similar treatment,  including Seattle journalist Jeanne Sather who was fired in 2000 by OnHealth  who had hired her specifically to write a column about her experiences of living with breast cancer. When a recurrence forced Jeanne to alter her work schedule, OnHealth let her go.

And even for those whose jobs are in workplaces required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the law is not much protection when employers use every artifice to get around the requirements, especially in at-will employment states like ours.  Workers who even have sick leave that may become a source of contention are in a better position than most, as some 38% of US workers have no sick leave at all, according to data compiled from federal government sources by the Economic Policy Institute.   The study found the ranks of haves and have-nots correlate along economic lines with only 19% of low-wage workers (mostly service workers)  having paid sick days, compared with 86% of high-wage workers. While there is  no federal or state mandate for paid sick leave, there is no excuse for the behavior of  thriving mega-corporations like Microsoft who have chosen to offer employees benefits and then manipulate them in ways that harm their workers. These cases illustrate once again too what’s wrong with a system that links health insurance with employment.

For locals interested in this issue , the Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce will be holding a town hall meeting on the evening of May 11 to discuss the needs of some 190,000 Seattle workers who have no paid sick days.

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