Sunday, July 6, 2008

Remembering Esmin Green

What is on my mind the most right now is a news story I ran across while traveling: the shocking death of Esmin Green, age 49, in the county hospital in Brooklyn, NY. She collapsed and died on June 19, 2008, after spending nearly 24 hours in the hospital waiting room. Hospital workers did nothing to help her as she lay on the floor for over an hour. Eventually, a staff worker walked over and poked her prone body with her foot!

The lack of respect and compassion evident in this facility is deplorable but it should not be surprising in a public mental hospital. There is a huge degree of institutionalized racism and discrimination against persons with mental illness throughout the American health system.

What saddened me was the role of Ms. Green's church.

Ms. Green had recently lost her job as a day-care worker and subsequently, her apartment. She was sending money back to her six children in her native country, Jamaica. She was active in her church, singing in the choir and running children's activities.

She had been having problems with anxiety and appears to have suffered some kind of psychotic break. According to CNN, Esmin's pastor made the decision to call 911--"a decision that haunts her." I don't fault her pastor for making that call, but I do wonder why no one stayed with her all that time in the ER. What if someone had been there to get her food or water? To summon help? She might still be alive today.

If the pastor was not available, could not a lay person have been found? If the church truly forms a family, how can it abandon one of its members at the gates of hell and hope that everything will be all right? I am sure that everyone involved meant well, but I think there is a lesson here for church communities. We simply cannot wash our hands and trust that the "proper authorities" will take care of those in the most acute need.

Because, honestly where else do people have to go?