Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Friends Of Recovery - New York

At the invitation of Stephanie Campbell, head of Friends of Recovery- New York, I had the chance to speak at their Stand Up for Recovery Day Rally, March 6, 2018 in Albany, NewYork.  Thank you Stephanie.  My remarks follow below:

Allow me to congratulate and celebrate those of you in recovery here today.  Our son, William, cannot be with us this morning to share his recovery story.  I’ll do my best in his stead– offering my two cents worth in three minutes. 
In October of 2012 William went with his bag packed to Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan.  William had been injecting heroin, using benzodiazepines purchased on the street, and consuming alcohol.  Aware and afraid he might die, he asked to be admitted to inpatient detox.  His insurers, Emblem Health and their Utilization Review provider, Value Options, quickly determined that inpatient detox was “not medically necessary.”

William is not here to share his recovery story today, because there is no recovery story.  Four days after he was denied treatment William accidentally overdosed.  His heart stopped beating. He was revived by an EMS team and hospitalized for six weeks, by which time it was clear that grievous damage was done.  Deprived of oxygen for too long, William’s brain had withered to a point of no recovery. He was removed from life support and died in our arms.

Laws exist which ought to have prevented William’s denial of treatment. Unfortunately we have yet to achieve full implementation of the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 nearly a decade after President Bush signed it into law.  The Act requires insurers to treat illnesses of the brain, such as depression and addiction, the same way they treat illnesses of the body, such as diabetes and cancer.  In the State of New York Timothy’s Law, permanently passed by the state legislature in 2009, requires similar parity. Yet insurers continue to ignore these laws, or scheme to avoid the responsibility imposed upon them by the law. Dodge, delay, and deny is a prescription for profit, not for treatment.   

In 2014 New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a settlement, an Assurance of Discontinuance, with Emblem Health for wrongly denying mental health and substance abuse treatment for thousands of New York members. A similar settlement with Value Options was reached in 2015.  These are but two of several such settlements reached by the Attorney General with insurers in the past few years.

Our family has an ongoing lawsuit against Emblem Health and Value Options due to their denial of treatment for William.  I tell you this, because as Friends of Recovery it is incumbent upon us all to be the foes of any and all who would deny recovery. All of us must engage in ways large and small to demand and ensure compliance that results in treatment and recovery for all. No one should have to hold their dying child.    

We are faced with the difficult process of changing hearts and minds.  That means talking to minds that have no heart, talking to hearts that have no mind, and talking to those who have neither but believe they have the best of both. It can be daunting.  We must not back off.

In our common battle with addiction our biggest obstacle is a wall.  It is the wall of stigma that confines us and blocks the path toward long overdue change.  It is a wall constructed of bigotry, discrimination, judgment, ignorance, shame, and fear, bound by the mortar of greed.  It is our responsibility to sound a clarion call, over and over, louder and louder, longer and longer, until – like the Biblical Joshua – we bring that wall tumbling down.  Tumbling down to reveal an enlightened path of compassion on the other side, a path that becomes a road to recovery for all.  Sound the call, loud and clear.  We WILL prevail.  We WILL

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Back to the Future?

In 1968 Trinity School, a private school in Manhattan, broke ground on its new Hawley Wing.  According to Trinity archives The New Hawley Wing brochure detailed sixteen modern classrooms, four science labratories (sic), seven music practice cubicles, and new research library, and a language labratory (sic). The brochure left out one interesting detail.  In the basement of the Hawley Wing was an approximately 75-foot long, 20-foot wide room.  On one side and one end the walls were formed by the cement foundation.  Cinderblock completed the remainder of the room.  The room was designed as a rifle range.  All through the end of the 20th century and well into the 21st a fuse box outside the long room provided evidence of the range.  Two circuit breakers remained clearly marked over the years with their original intent, “Rifle Range”.  When last I checked in 2008 this evidence of the range remained intact.
I have no idea whether any shots were ever fired there.  Apocryphal or not, I recall hearing that the social upheaval of the late sixties and early seventies helped set about the dissolution of the school’s rifle team, leaving the “range” available for other purposes.  When I arrived at the school in 1981 that meant an office or two and either a costume closet or a percussion rehearsal room.  The space has been repurposed numerous times, enough so that memory fails.
Sometime in the seventies an enterprising student engaged in a semester-long senior project undertook to convert part of the space into a black box theater, what became known as The Basement Theater.  It had a playing space of 20 feet by 22 feet, approximating Shakespeare’s Globe.  For decades it housed productions directed by faculty and students, as well as classes in theater, public speaking, and various other activities.  Most years it witnessed at least three or four productions at minimum.  Joan of Arc, Lizzie Borden, and Princess Diana have all done a turn in the Basement.  We waited for Godot.   
The creation of the Basement Theater was part and parcel of a roughly forty-year period of theater flourishing at Trinity.  There were musicals, an annual musical Cabaret, several faculty directed main stage and Basement productions each year, an annual student directed Shakespeare production, student directed one-act plays, student directed independent studies, and theater courses as electives in the curriculum.  It was possible for students to take a different theater class every year from seventh grade through graduation.  Trinity had a well-earned reputation for its excellent and diverse theater program. 
There is a legacy from this program still alive.  Alumni working in all aspects of theater and film:  actors, writers, directors, composers, producers, stage managers, teachers, managing arts organizations, board members, donor/supporters, (and apologies for any other capacities I’ve overlooked). 
There are times when the program received enthusiastic administrative support. Even at its height, those of us who taught and directed had to defend the value of the arts to administrators, faculty colleagues, and the community at large.  There was always a lurking concern that too much theater might make it harder to enter the Holy Trinity of Yale, Harvard and Princeton.  There were, alas, times when administrators were indifferent, inept, or intrusive.  Decisions to make cuts in the program caused the loss of courses in the curriculum, affected the number of productions taking place each year, and ultimately student participation.
More recently it was determined that the space that was probably home to over a hundred productions over the years was no longer needed as a theater space.  The small, intimate space where so many classes in creativity, where so many student actors learned what it was like to work close to an audience, where alumni would return for nostalgic visits at reunions, is now filled with exercise equipment, presided over by the physical education department.  It reflects a change in what Trinity and our society as a whole values. 
Now, as a society, we are faced with a proposal from our president that schools will be safer places if teachers are armed.   One hopes that saner minds will rule the day at Trinity.  One fantasizes that as we slide backwards, arming ourselves against our fears, that the onetime Basement Theater will be repurposed again, back to its origins.  Take out the barbells and the treadmills. What better use for the place than as a range where faculty can hone their marksmanship skills in house.  Range to artistic sanctuary to range.  Let’s hope the pendulum never swings in that wide an arc.