Public safety net is more of a safety spinning platform

I’ve been thinking a lot about the major challenges Vermont is facing these days: incessant rain and flooding, an unhoused population set adrift, mental health issues for kids who just came out of a pandemic, a housing shortage, a workforce shortage, taxes and inflation, and holy moly I want to get back in bed. 

One conversation I have with people a lot these days is: Where do we start if we want to make things better without spending everyone’s hard-earned money?

When I was a kid and playgrounds were danger traps of splinters, lead paint and burning hot metal, a popular feature (or death hazard) was a round wooden platform with handles, and you would basically sit on it and hang on for dear life while another kid tried to murder you by holding one of the handles and then running around as fast as they could, trying their best to get everyone to lose their grip and go flying off the spinning platform into the dust and rocks.

Ahhhh, childhood memories.

If you had so much fun getting all the skin removed from your knees that you wanted to get back on, often your best chance was to leap while it was still spinning. That’s how I see the cycle and circle of our challenges here in Vermont. I think we just need to find a spot, focus and then jump, hoping that once we get in there, we’ll have momentum and motion to keep us going.

I think our childcare bill from this last session was a good start; supporting families in this way means more people can work because they have a safe and secure place for their kids during the day, which hopefully leads to solving other problems just by nature of that one significant change.

I think health care should be our next flying leap. It’s complicated, it’s confusing, there are a lot of systems in place that make money for many people but don’t actually provide adequate care. (For instance, did you know that Medicare doesn’t cover an annual physical? There’s a wellness exam, but that’s a hi-how-are-you-are-you-still-alive-OK-great kind of thing, as opposed to a checkup. Seniors deserve more than that.)

I moved back to Vermont 13 years ago, and in that time, the monthly health insurance premiums for my family have more than doubled. Because my employment hasn’t been traditional, I haven’t worked anywhere that’s provided benefits, which means that I’m currently paying, for myself and three kids, more than $1,700 a month for health insurance. And there’s still a deductible and copays. I’m lucky I can afford this, even though I don’t want to, and it’s mind-boggling that there are so many people who can’t but who also don’t qualify for help from the state. And I just read that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont plans to raise monthly rates as much as 18 percent next year.

Also, we need more health-care professionals; we need to have housing available so the hospitals can spend their money on permanent solutions rather than wildly expensive travel nurses; we need to provide avenues for care that might not involve a physician since we don’t have enough of them to go around. If you’re in pain, and you need a series of appointments to figure out what the problem is, and it takes a month to even get into a doctor’s office, you can suffer for a year before you even solve the problem.

If you have a kid who needs therapy, good luck finding someone. There’s a serious lack of mental health care for everyone in Vermont, but especially for kids — and these kids have really been through it these last few years. (Imagine spending two years of high school at home with your mother 24 hours a day? Torture.) If they get the support they need now, then when they’re older they’re going to be less likely to suffer from substance misuse and depression and domestic violence and everything else that goes along with it. Plus, the stress of the recent flooding: people have lost everything, and the ripples of that will be affecting mental health for a long time to come.

And here we go around again with the spinning. I think we have to just take a deep breath, jump on the speeding circle of doom, and just pick a place to start. I’m not so naive as to think I can solve the problem myself, but I do think there are a lot of creative, knowledgeable, smart and motivated people both in the State House and in our community who can work together to make it happen.

If you have any ideas, as always, be in touch or 917-887-8231.