Friday, September 08, 2006

Can't Accuse University of Utah of Being a Bunch of Liberal Bleeding Hearts

No sirree! Rules are rules, after all.

Randee Willard, mother of two boys under the age of 3, is learning how to speak, walk and live her life again.

The Daily Utah Chronicle -- the student newspaper at the University of Utah -- not exactly an area of the country known for student activism -- reports in yesterday's paper with this Headline & subhead, followed by the story:

Healthcare catastrophe
U staff member fired after taking time off to recover from brain surgery

Randee Willard, a worker in the University's billing department, who was fired after having brain surgery due to a strict policy that denies health-care benefits and sick leave to new employees.

Diagnosed with a brain tumor four months ago, Willard had to choose between keeping her job and saving her life. After working in the U's billing department for only five months before being diagnosed, she did not qualify for health-care benefits and time off.

The U has a strict policy for new employees, requiring a six-month probationary period to pass before an employee can receive paid vacation and time off, healthcare benefits or request a certain number days off without pay.

When news spread of Willard's condition, fellow employees volunteered to donate their paid-vacation and sick leave so she could take the time she needed to recover.

But because of the strict policy, their requests to help her were denied.

oncerned about being terminated after the surgery, Willard spoke to the U's human resources department, and said employees there reassured her that her position would remain open for her after the surgery.

On June 2, Willard came out of the brain surgery, which was deemed a success, and doctors told her she was well on her way to recovery.

But when doctors removed the tumor, they took out much of the surrounding tissue, cutting out vital parts of Willard's brain. When she woke up, she discovered that she had to learn everything over again.

"Everything I've ever learned is gone," she said.

Willard had previously studied criminal psychology at the College of Eastern Utah, but now had to begin relearning everything, including parts of her past, such as her birthday.

Two weeks into her recovery period, Randee Willard's husband, Casey Willard, received a phone call from her boss-if Randee Willard couldn't come to work the following Monday, her employment at the U would be terminated.

Randee Willard's condition at the time, though, prevented her from going to work, and she was terminated June 20, fewer than three weeks after her brain surgery.

The news was a tremendous blow to her and her family, which depended on her and her husband's incomes to get by.

As a former U employee, Randee Willard was offered a continuation of health coverage known as the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). The supplementary insurance provides former employees and their families with coverage at group rates. She and her family are currently using COBRA to help cover costs. The drawback, though, is that users typically pay the entire premium themselves, plus administrative fees-102 percent.

Randee Willard's condition requires her to see doctors monthly, in addition to frequent therapy appointments. Money to cover the premiums is thin and assistance from outside sources has been insufficient.

Casey Willard said in a written statement that he feels this is an important moral issue that the U needs to deal with.

"We believe that there is something the university could have done so that we would not be left without Randee's income and family insurance," Casey Willard said.

The U issued a statement that said if Randee Willard would like to return to work for the U, she is welcome to reapply.
The story also stated that Willard faces "the repossession of her truck, eviction from her home and the prospect of filing for bankruptcy."

One more indication of how our post-industrial nation is ever more rapidly becoming a third world nation, having long been in the unique position of being the only industrialized nation without universal health care for its citizens. It's only going to get worse.

Meanwhile, let's see what we can do to help this young woman and her family? I will try to find out where donations can be made on Ms. Willard's behalf. Kudos to the reporter, Natalie Hale; the entire story is here.

University of Utah Employee fired brain surgery Healthcare Crisis Health care Crisis no health insurance Randee Willard University of Utah Employee


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