Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Consolidarity: The Sequel

[Note: This article is a follow-up to a previously published article that can be found at below -- "Consolidarity."]
I went to see my friend Johnny last night. He's been my friend for seven years. Johnny was, I think, a victim of multiple sclerosis. He was always in his wheelchair, and it was difficult for him to present a hand to shake, but I soon found he did not like a pat on the shoulder. So I waited for the hand. He had a special name he called me -- one that no one else used. He also had one for my wife. Johnny liked to sing when I came to visit him. No one could understand the words, except, maybe, him. His conversation was fully understandable, but his singing; well, nobody liked his singing, except maybe me. Some of the other residents of the nursing home would clap their hands over their ears and tell him to be quiet, but he just kept smiling and singing.

Johnny loved the Dallas Cowboys, and rooted for them through thick and thin. He could tolerate their repulsive owner, and he forgave them for putting T.O. on their team, something that I cannot bring myself to do. Johnny was one of the best fans the Cowboys have ever had. He was devastated by their loss to the Giants.

Why am I talking in the past tense? Because I went to visit Johnny at the funeral home last night. Instead of a suit and tie, they had dressed him in his Dallas Cowboys shirt, with Tony Romo's name and #9 on it, and wearing his warm-ups. It was totally appropriate, and I appreciate his family knowing him well enough to dress him that way.

Johnny was not killed by anyone. He was not a victim of foul play. He was only a "result" of a business decision. Since they "consolidated" our local nursing home with the big one in the nearest town, three of my friends have died. The move, combined with poor health, was too much for them. I don't really hold anyone liable. Johnny never really recovered after the Cowboys' loss, so I would have to blame Tony Romo as well.

But I cannot shake the idea that Johnny would still be around if he had not been so suddenly uprooted with absolutely no advance notice. Yes, I know that things like this often have to happen, but to the most vulnerable in our society, do they have to happen so fast? Johnny is a representative of what can happen to all of us. You're sitting at your desk, at a job you like (or tolerate), and saving up for retirement in, say, 10 years, when one day, your boss comes in and says, "You've done a great job, but we've just been bought out, and the parent company is downsizing." You find you have a week to start looking for a new job. At least you will probably get a severance or a "buy out."

Johnny didn't. He just got moved. Right in the middle of a serious bout with a cold or flu virus. From his home for the last (at least) 7 years, to a hospital, and then to another room he had never been in. He had to die in a strange room. With an unknown roommate (a space-saving, cost-saving move, I might add). His last roommate had been his mother, who died four years ago.

So Johnny got consolidated, along with about 30 others, and at least three have already died. I used to do a little gardening, and I know what a transplant can do to a young, tender plant. You have to shelter them from the sun and elements for a while, give them extra care, and even then, you'll lose a few. I'm amazed at how many are being displaced by "productive fiscal decisions" in our own culture.

Years ago, when I was in graduate school, I worked my way through it by being an imported food vendor. I serviced a major grocery chain. The stores had a "Midas" touch -- through great marketing and "location, location, location," they grew. Thousands worked for them. I was surprised when, suddenly, in the early 1990's, they were just -- gone.

What caused their demise? Incompetence? No. Change in demographics? Economic downturns? None of that. They were merely "bought," or absorbed, by a wealthy corporation, then they were stripped of their assets, and the rest was sold off. I don't know what happened to the friends I had made during that time, who were working their way up in a productive, promising corporation. The stores were great, but consolidation ransacked them. Somebody made billions of dollars, but we all lost in the long run.

I don't think the huge conglomerate that bought all of these nursing homes made "billions," but they did cut costs, and probably were able to "downsize" a little. I also found out yesterday that the four or five in the old nursing home that did not get out within the weeks' time they were given had no heat in the place after the eviction date. Somehow, I thought "care" centers could do better than that.

Johnny will be buried today some time after 2:00. He looked great just three weeks ago, the last time I shook his hand and we talked about the Cowboys and the Super Bowl. At least I have the assurance of his burial in a traditional cemetery. I recently attended the funerals of an aunt and uncle who were buried in a "consolidated" one. He is eight or nine feet below ground; she is six feet. They don't take up much space in that cemetery; they don't bother too many people, and they serve a "cost effective" purpose. And isn't that why we all love consolidation so much?

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