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Juan González: My 92-Year-Old Mother’s COVID-19 Experience Shows Me How Rotten Our Health System Is

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As the United States leads the world in both reported COVID-19 cases and death toll, hospitals at other coronavirus hot spots around the country are reporting dire conditions as they deal with a surge in critically sick patients. “We have to ask ourselves why, in a country that spends so much money on healthcare, are we still having problems producing the most basic equipment, [such as masks, gowns and tests],” says Democracy Now! co-host, Juan González, who describes how he struggled to get his own 92-year-old mother tested when he took her to the emergency room in New Jersey. “It is just an outrage that this discontinues to bedevil a country as wealthy as ours. And I really believe it’s part of this whole situation of this neoliberal view of how to run the market.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic in the world, but we begin today’s show in New Jersey, one of the hardest-hit states from the pandemic, only second to New York, with nearly 65,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and just under 2,500 deaths. The state’s Democratic Governor Phil Murphy said his state is trying to stay ahead of the need for hospital beds and equipment. On CNN’s State of the Union, Governor Murphy said, quote, “The house is on fire. We’ve got to put the fire on the house out. Then we’ve got to begin to get back on our feet. And then, at that point, we have to look back and say what could we have done differently.”

Well, for more, we’re joined from New Jersey by my co-host Juan González, who’s joining us from his home in New Brunswick.

Juan, how are you and your family doing?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Amy, first of all, welcome to all of our listeners and viewers across the country and around the world.

But this has now hit directly home in the last week or so. First, my 92-year-old mother got sick last week. Her caregiver in New York City, where she lived, was felled and had a high fever and had to quarantine, and therefore she was left alone. My wife and I had to, clearly, go to the Bronx, get her and bring her here to New Brunswick, because she had no one else to care for her. And she had no fever, though, but she had intense abdominal pains. And we tried to see if we could deal with her and treat her here for several days, ended up having to go to the emergency room Sunday. She was hospitalized. Only when they hospitalized her and they did a COVID test did she turn out to be positive. So she is now in the hospital dealing with the COVID.

And meanwhile, here, then, yesterday, my wife came down sick, and now she is extremely weak. And again, she does not have fever, either, but it’s clear that something has affected her, even as we were trying to deal with my mother. And so, it’s become much more direct here, not just reporting on it, but trying to deal with it. And, of course, throughout Central New Jersey, as much of the rest of the East Coast, there are thousands of people trying to figure out, without testing, because they don’t test you unless they actually admit you to the hospital, and —

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, if you could actually stop there for a second, because when you brought your mother to the hospital — and to say you brought her to the hospital means you brought her to a tent outside the hospital, where you had to leave your 92-year-old mother, right? Because you and your wife could not —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right, no one is allowed in. No one is allowed in. So, you basically —

AMY GOODMAN: — go in.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You just register them —

AMY GOODMAN: And in the emergency room, is it true they wanted to release her? They said they would not test her.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right. They initially said they would not test her. They were going to release her because they thought she had a mild coronavirus. But I kept on saying, “But what about the unbearable pain that she has? Can you check that out further?” They did check that out further, and they then decided that there were other complications, other health issues that she had. And then, in order to admit her to the hospital, they had to decide whether she had COVID or not, because they clearly had to segregate all the COVID patients in a certain wing of the hospital. So, at that point, when they were getting ready to admit her, they then tested her.

AMY GOODMAN: And I just want to say one thing, because then I want to ask you about the people that you’ve been trying to help in New Jersey, particularly immigrants. People are under the illusion in this country that, well, you may not be tested if you’re at home, and you don’t want to risk going to the hospital and getting infected, but that if you go to an emergency room, you will be tested. That is not true. The supply is so lacking that — I have a friend who went to NYU Langone. He was in the emergency room. They wouldn’t test him. And the doctors and nurses there decried the fact they couldn’t test him. They said, “This is a terrible situation that we can’t test you.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: He was in the emergency room. And your mother, the same.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, my mother’s —

AMY GOODMAN: The only reason she was tested is because she was hospitalized.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right, and my mother’s caregiver, who had a high fever, twice went to Mount Sinai in New York to the emergency room there, and they sent her home each time, again, not testing her. They told her, “You most likely have COVID, but we’re not going to do a test.”

So, there is a huge problem in terms of the testing situation, that continues to — and it is just astounding that in the richest country in the world, which spends more money on healthcare than any other country, the fact that we already have 20% — about 20% of all the COVID deaths in the world, yet we represent only 4% of the world’s population. We have to ask ourselves why, in a country that spends so much money on healthcare, are we still having problems producing the most basic equipment — masks and gowns to protect people — and rapid production of tests. It is just an outrage that this continues to bedevil a country as wealthy as ours.

And I really believe it’s part of this whole situation of this neoliberal view of how to run the market, that even hospital executives and industry leaders, who have been pursuing maximum revenue and minimum cost for years, kept insisting on the fewest numbers of unfilled beds, the barest number of staff that they could possibly keep on. They were always willing to spend ungodly amounts of money on these multimillion-dollar medical equipment, but never stockpiled, never stockpiled basic goods necessary in case of a public health emergency.

And so, it’s just just astounding that this continues to happen. And unfortunately, tens of thousands of people have already died unnecessarily in their homes and in their hospital beds during this crisis, hundreds of thousands more will die in the coming months, as a direct result of decades of greed by our capitalist elite, who kept pushing this just-in-time production, these data analytics to guarantee that they would know what the future holds, and never taking into account the potential for sudden emergencies that might overwhelm them.

AMY GOODMAN: And coupling that, of course, with the fact that so many millions of people do not have healthcare. In New York, the population with the highest death rate right now is the Latinx population. You go to places like Corona, to Elmhurst, Queens, I mean, the concern of the number of people who are dying at home, hundreds of people. And when people are buried — for example, in potter’s field on Hart Island — how often are their families contacted? Do their families in other countries know what has happened? And you, Juan, in New Jersey, even as your family is ill — and I want to ask you how you’re doing — your work with immigrants who are desperate at this moment?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, well, we’ve had to — you know, I firmly believe that it’s not enough for radicals and progressives to just rail against the situation. And it’s not just a question of the ineptness of the current administration in Washington. Sure, the Trump administration has a lot to blame, but this has been building for decades. And for journalists like ourselves, it’s not enough to simply expose this train of abuses. I think we also have to point the way to change, to give people hope and to promote grassroots efforts by everyday people.

That’s why I’ve gotten involved here in New Brunswick with a thing called the Mutual Aid Fund for New Brunswick. It’s a GoFundMe campaign to provide direct assistance to the undocumented community, which is getting nothing, I mean, because many of them work off the books. They don’t qualify for stimulus. They don’t qualify for unemployment assistance. And they are basically in terror right now in their homes. Many don’t have health insurance. They’re afraid to go to the hospital. And there are tens and tens of thousands, not just in New Jersey, but across the country, of immigrants who are now really the most vulnerable. So, we’ve been very successful, in just a couple of days, of putting together a fund.

And I urge others across the country, in your own neighborhoods, to do what you can. Don’t depend on the private sector or some promised government assistance program which may or may not materialize. We’ve got to pull together as much as we can with our own neighbors, the 99%, and support each other and keep fighting to preserve and defend people in our local communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan, how are you feeling personally?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m a little weak. My wife’s in worse shape right now. And, of course, our biggest concern is that my mother is — basically, she’s totally cut off. She has no way of communicating. And unfortunately, her cellphone died, and we haven’t been able to get her charger to her, so even being able to get a phone call into her and to connect with the nurses’ station in the hospital, because they’re overwhelmed. We understand that. They’re having enormous problems there. But if the hospital experience was terrible for many people before this, now it is a total — it’s a total nightmare just to be able to communicate with your relatives who are hospitalized.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan, all the best to Lilia, to your mom, and of course to you. And I’m so glad you could join us today.

In New Jersey, by the way, just numbers, you have what? Over 8 million people. Almost half a million are undocumented immigrants.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’ll be talking to a migrant worker in Florida, an organizer in Ohio. We’ll be going to Arkansas, where Tyson Foods is based. And we’ll be looking at Smithfield, the meat company, the pork company, that provides almost 5% — one factory — of the pork to this country. More than 350 of the workers inside have tested positive, and the plant’s been closed down. What’s happening with the migrant workers of this country? We’ll look at the food supply chain. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “On the Road Again,” performed Sunday by Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson and Micah Nelson as part of Farm Aid at Home 2020, the annual concert that’s raised money and awareness for family farms since 1985. This year’s virtual concert benefited farms impacted by COVID-19.

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