The Only Option is the Public Option

I look for do-gooders in any field, from social work to commerce. They're out there, everywhere. Except maybe in politics. Is it the compromises they have to make, the pay offs they inevitably take, or are political "do-gooders" eaten up so early on that they abandon politics altogether for a field where they actually can make change happen?

I feel like a pretty resourceful person most of the time, but I don't know how to stand up and make demands like the wild protestors did in the 60's. In a lame attempt to do something (though I suspect it's hardly better than nothing), I wrote my senator today to implore that he sign on to the public option.
Dear Senator Nelson,
I am writing to ask you to support the passage of the public option through reconciliation. My husband and I are two hard working freelancers (musician and journalist/educator, respectively). We are good at what we do and love how we contribute to society, even though it means we live on modest incomes. Because of pre-existing conditions, we cannot buy health insurance on the individual market, nor are we eligible through trade/group plans. We are very healthy and regularly pay for preventative check ups out of pocket. If there's ever an accident, however, we are totally vulnerable and would be a drain on the system - or in the words of Congressman Grayson, we'd be best to "Die quickly." The best medical tools in world are in our country, yet the working poor, like us, do not have access. How is this okay? Do you think the way it is is the way it should be, or are you willing to stand up for what's right? I ask you Senator, who will stand up for us?
Dawn M. Elliott


96.5 WSLR

Ronny visited with WSLR programmer Tom Darby Friday afternoon in Sarasota.


Across the Universe in Tampa

Growing up I had a typical but terrible case of a condition I dubbed "all alone in the universe." (Actually I wasn't able to really shake myself out of it until I was 30.) I occasionally take a step back into it when I think of the horrible sides of humanity - wars, greed, people not taking care of each other. What really saves me are the signs I now see everywhere: a passage in a book:

"Just what should a young man or woman know in order to be "in the know"? Is there, in other words, some inside information, some special taboo, some real lowdown on life and existence that most parents and teachers either don't know or won't tell?"
Sharing one of my favorite movies, Ghost World, with my husband, only to discover that one of his favorite documentaries, Crumb, was made by the same director.

And all the links to people we know around Tampa Bay. For example, Ronny wrote a song about the little known wrestler Gorgeous George (whose antics inspired many well known athletes and performers) several years ago. Coincidentally, Gorgeous George recently got his first biography by Tampa resident John Capouya, professor of journalism at the University of Tampa. On Monday he leads a free discussion on his book at the Reeves Theater at 6 p.m.

With people like this in the universe, how can one ever be alone?


(Friends' Meeting) House Concert for Haiti

St. Petersburg-based photojournalist David Brown was in Haiti last month documenting the aftermath of the earthquake. Upon his return home he thought about "what I and we can do to help with their tragic situation." So together with his wife Carol, he organized a concert that will partly benefit Partners in Health/Stand with Haiti. David recently wrote of the charity and his event in an email:
PIH has been working on the ground in Haiti for over 20 years and has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator. Their founder, Paul Farmer, is a Brooksville native and as close to a saint as a man can be. Carol and I will gladly match dollar-for-dollar your donations to PIH. Please join us for an evening of wonderful music, fellowship and fundraising.
The concert is this Sunday, February 21st and features Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein and Michael Cicone.
Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein and Michael Cicone have had the pleasure of performing together in concerts, coffeehouses, and festivals throughout New England since 1981. Their close harmonies have inspired enthusiastic responses from audiences and critics alike. The trio sings both a cappella and accompanied by guitar and hammered dulcimer, drawing material from contemporary and traditional music of the British Isles and North America, with a liberal sprinkling of sea music and occasional forays into other cultures as well. The threesome has just released their third recording together.

When: Doors at 7, show at 7:30.
Where: Friends' Meeting House, 130 19th Avenue SE, St. Petersburg.
For more info or to RSVP, contact David Brown at:

Photo by Peter Simon

15 Minutes of Fame

A few posts back I wrote about FMoPA's 15 Minutes of Fame, but I gave the wrong date for the next one. I misstated that it was coming up this Wednesday, but it's happening next week on Wed., February 24th.

If you're a photographer this is a great opportunity to learn how to present your work/share it with the Tampa community, as well as view the work of others. Museum membership is required to be a presenter but not an audience member.

Construction on the new Tampa Museum of Art and Curtis Hixson park, circa 2008.



Sometimes I feel like I can't take myself anywhere without seeing something wrong that must be righted. I told this to Ronny, who welcomed me into his club and then quoted this line from the 1953 Marlon Brandon flick, "The Wild One":

Mildred: What're you rebelling against, Johnny?

Johnny: Whaddya got?


Florida's Greatest Resource, Part II

District Ombudsman Manager Robin Baker heads the small Tampa office that investigates complaints made by or on behalf of residents of long-term care facilities. Her district consists of Hillsborough and Manatee counties - that's 322 facilities between her, two other employees, and (at last count last week) 13 state-certified volunteers.

Robin assigned the complaint I made to one of her volunteers, who was on the case by the time I got to work that afternoon. The building swarmed with nervous employees as the ombudsman conducted his investigation. I was nervous too, wondering if I had done the right thing, or if I had jumped the gun. But it was the best decision I could have made with the information I had and I don't regret choosing the only option I thought would help the gentleman in a wheelchair
who deserved so much more care and respect.

I quit the next day and began a search for my third CNA job in two months and quickly landed at a luxury nursing home. The experience was so different from my first two jobs, from the interview to my last day three months later. The heavy work load, however, was the same, but there was a cohesion between all employees at this fancy place that my previous employers lacked. The admin demanded a lot from the nurses and CNA's, but they also respected us. We worked hard and they thanked us profusely. I got a dollar raise by the end of my first month. The best part, though, was getting to know Tampa's history through these residents, the retired social elite of my city: lawyers, doctors, journalists, mothers, and more.

I had mixed emotions about quitting. Physically, I just couldn't do it anymore. I miss folks from every facility I've worked at, but having spent 40+ hours a week for three months with the folks at the fancy nursing home had really bonded me to some of them. I made a compromise, kind of. After I quit, Ronny and I signed up to become ombudsmen.

Don Hering, chair of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Council, describes Florida's Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program as "a volunteer-based organization seeking to improve the quality of life of vulnerable elders who live in licensed long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and adult family care homes." Its mission is to "protect the health, safety, welfare, and human and civil rights of long-term care facilities' 150,000 residents."
After Ronny and I completed the three days of classroom training, Don took us out for three complaint investigations and three annual facility assessments, requirements toward our certification. In January, we investigated our first complaint case solo.

I'm still learning the ropes, not to mention the politics involved. Some of the worst facilities, for example, may never be closed down. Meanwhile, some politicians have tried to get rid of the ombudsman program altogether.

Not one to fear hard work, I think I'll stick to this for a while.

Florida's Greatest Resource, Part I

In the fall of 2008 as the economy went up in smoke, professionally I went from writer to waitress to unemployed. The bad news was that I had to

find a paycheck quickly, but there was good news in that it was the perfect time to reinvent myself. Ever the do-gooder, I had yet to be completely fulfilled by my profession (the main reason I continue to volunteer).
As I looked around for work, the only job listing I came across continually was for certified nursing assistants (CNA). In one weekend I trained for the state certification exam, passed it six weeks later, and hit the pavement running. In one day I visited seven or more nursing homes. I walked in, took in the view, smelled the smells...actually, only one place smelled and of course that was the nursing home that hired me on the spot.

There were approximately 200 beds in the facility and the place was almost filled to capacity. I was told the average age of the residents was 55. This nursing home was essentially where "crazy" people without family/homes/resources were sent to be cared for. It was either this place or living on the streets.

I shadowed another CNA for less than a week then was on my own to take care of roughly 15 people (just below the state mandate of no less than one CNA per 20 residents) per eight-hour shift. I worked slowly and not just because I was new, but because I could see that the people I took care of were lonely. Caring for and talking to the residents as you fed them or changed their diapers was not a job requirement, and I quickly clashed with my co-workers, many of whom tried to show me short cuts so I'd work at a faster pace. I was taught to wash residents with shaving cream, for example, because it cut body odor without requiring water.

As with most nursing homes, the staff turnover was astounding (I was later told by a director of nursing at another facility that the norm is 300%). After speaking candidly with several of the CNA's I worked with, I learned most came from a staffing agency, which paid more than being hired as a regular full-time employee. Our supervisors were Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN's), nurses with two-year degrees, but to me their primary job seemed to be passing out medication, not to oversee CNAs that slacked on the job. I only stayed there for three weeks, long enough to find another place, any place.

Unfortunately my next job was a step down. It was at a very pretty Assisted Living Facility (ALF), which I soon discovered was not subject to all the same strict laws as nursing homes. I had already decided it was much too easy to get a CNA license in the state of Florida, but at ALF's, "caregivers" replace CNA's and licenses are not required (thus a reduced pay scale but still the same difficult emotional and physical workload). Additionally, because most residents of an ALF need less assistance than the clients in a nursing home, the ratio of resident-to-caregiver is higher.

I had a problem immediately with the administration. It was obvious that many seniors in our care required much more than just assistance, in fact, some needed total physical care. This ALF had 50 residents and only three employees on my afternoon-to-evening shift to care for them.

Another shock to me regarding ALF's was learning that the person hired to hand out medication to residents (usually called a med tech) had less training than a CNA, while CNA's are not legally allowed to touch medication at any time.

Three weeks into my job at the ALF, I was tending to one of the residents under my care who complained of extreme pain. For three days in a row the resident cried to me about the great amount of pain he was in, and for three days I reported this information to my superior. She brushed me off each time. I was not made aware of any plans to resolve the issue with the resident nor was I ever spoken to about the incident. I realized that at my ALF the administration and hands-on staff didn’t establish relationships as co-workers, and I definitely felt there was a common lack of respect for CNA's by the upper echelon of the staff.

It was apparent to me that the ALF I worked in was not a safe place for my pained resident, who couldn't walk much less care for his wounds. Because I didn't trust my employer enough to handle the situation in a timely manner, I called the phone number posted on the familiar flyer that hangs in all of Florida's long-term care facilities: the hotline to Florida's Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.