Brattleboro, VT — On the evening of September 25th more than fifty Brattleboro residents came to St. Michaels Episcopal Church to participate in the first Human Rights Hearing on Healhcare. This was the first of a series of hearings to be held throughout the state as part of the Vermont Workers’ Center’s new Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign. Since last May 1st, volunteers and allies of the Center have been on the streets of most the larger towns and on many job sites asking fellow Vermonters to fill out a survey about their experiences with the healthcare system. Our goal is to have over 1000 of these personal interviews done by December, and we will release a report on our findings on December 10th, which marks the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights issued by the United Nations in 1948. 

The Brattleboro hearing was co-sponsored by Vermont the Citizens Campaign For Health (VCCH), the ALANA Community Organization and the Brattleboro Union High School student group Child Labor Education and Action. Testimony was heard by a community listening panel chaired by Shela Linton of ALANA and Richard Davis of VCCH, which also included Carol Whitaker, RN, a nurses’ union leader at the Brattleboro Retreat; Kathleen Clark, RN, Vice President of the Brattleboro Federation of Nurses at the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital; Daniel Herlocker, RN, also a union member at the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital; the Reverend Lise Sparrow, minister at the Guilford Community Church; Rosa Palmeri of Child Labor Education & Action; and Dianne Champion, Brattleboro District Director of the Vermont Department of Health.

The first testimony came from Nancy Hodecker who told of the painful experience of losing her husband to tongue cancer. She said he was uninsured, and ignored the sore because of health costs until it was too late and he had developed class four cancer. Other testimony highlighted the relationship with healthcare to homelessness, racial discrimination in treatment sometimes received in the healthcare system, and a powerful report of a Brattleboro resident who said that she stayed in an abusive relationship for 22 years because her husband threatened to cut her and her children — one of whom had cancer — off from his insurance if she left him. 

The event closed by passing around an “I’ll Be There” sign-up sheet for the May 1, 2009 Healthcare Is A Human Right Rally at the State House in Montpelier. Almost every single person in attendance signed it. Other hearings are planned in Burlington on October 23rd, St. Albans November 13th and St. Johnsbury November 18th. More hearings are planned in other cities and towns throughout the state.