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Worked to Death

Posted by William Jordan, MD, MPH February 24, 2011 at 11:01 AM

I was saddened to learn this week that a patient under my care had died.  A man in his 50s who worked hard on his feet all day in the food service industry, he was afraid of losing his job if he came to the doctor.  He missed countless appointments.  The last time I saw him, he had been having chest pain for a month that turned out to be a blocked artery in his heart, but he had delayed coming in because he couldn’t take a day off from work.  Being on his feet all day at work had led to diabetic foot ulcers and one of these became infected – this is what ultimately took him from us.  He was another victim of a system that doesn’t provide time off from work to seek health care.

As we see the rights of workers across the country under siege, it’s important to remember that benefits like health insurance and paid sick days are not luxuries.  For workers to be healthy, they need to earn a decent wage, have affordable, quality, health insurance, and be able to see a health care provider when the need arises.  That is why here in New York City, we are fighting for mandatory paid sick days for all employees (9 days per year for big business, 5 for small business).  When a similar policy was enacted in San Francisco, there was no adverse effect on businesses, and employees only took on average 3 sick days per year.

While some argue that we can’t afford this during an economic downturn, I argue that we can’t afford to see our patients dying because they cannot take a day off from work.  When my patients can’t come in to see me, they can end up permanently disabled, meaning they can no longer work to provide food, shelter, and health care for their families.  People forced to leave the workforce strain our already stretched safety net, and deprive the economy of much-needed consumer spending and tax revenue.  Paid sick days are vital to the health of our patients and the health of our economy.

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5 Responses to “Worked to Death”

  1. Steve Smith says:

    I totally agree, Bill. I will be testifying before our General Assembly on Tuesday on behalf of the CT-NPA in support of a paid-sick-day bill before the legislature. I’ll keep your story of your patient in my back pocket in case I have a chance to tell it as well as my own stories from my patients.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Women Employed, National Partnership. National Partnership said: Sad story: Patient w chest pains was afraid 2 miss work 2 see Dr. His death cld have been prevented w #paidsickdays. #NYC […]

  3. […] posted with author permission from National Physicians Alliance […]

  4. Linda Green says:

    American Public Health Association is looking for a well stated and researched position paper on this, one of their gaps in policy they feel. Any members out there working on this could certainly have it submitted through the Medical Section or the Occupational Health Section.

  5. DJ says:

    What about for residents?

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