Michael O’Brien: Fundraising provides care for uninsured

Summer 2011

Michael O’Brien spent 10 years caring for his parents, both victims of Alzheimer’s disease, in their San Carlos home. It was a full-time job for the former accountant, newspaperman, innkeeper and teacher – a job with no medical benefits.

In July, 2010, O’Brien’s father, Michael Joseph O’Brien Jr., died and Michael was diagnosed with colon cancer. He’s applied for MediCal, California’s health insurance program for those who can’t afford it, but his application has yet to be accepted.

Due to a pre-existing health condition, O’Brien, 62, had health insurance only when an employer provided it. His situation is not unique. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that almost one in every six American residents has no health insurance.

Mission Hospice & Home Care has always been committed to providing quality, compassionate hospice care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. Social workers help uninsured patients apply for coverage, but about 10 percent of Mission Hospice’s hospice patients don’t have it, according to CEO Dwight Wilson.

“Last year we provided 680 days of free care, which averages over 56 days a month,” he said, adding that fundraising efforts have to cover the costs of unreimbursed care (see inside cover for the real cost of patient care).

O’Brien’s cancer was in remission for about six months after chemotherapy, but his doctor told him earlier this year that he’d run out of options.

Mission Hospice & Home Care cared for Michael’s father during his illness, and now Michael has the same team caring for him. Wilson said Mission Hospice gets two to five cases a year with a “second generation” patient.

O’Brien’s care team includes nurse Mike Russo, social worker Roby Newman, volunteer Curt Eslbernd, and Chaplain Linda Siddall. His main caretaker is his brother Sean, who lives in Davis and also supervises care for their mother, now in an assisted living facility.

“It’s nice just to have people around,” O’Brien said. “I didn’t realize I was an extrovert but I actually gain energy from, and feel better, when people visit.”

It’s been a comfort to have a team he already knew, he added.

“They’re some of the most caring and dedicated people I’ve ever come across,” he said. “They don’t miss a thing and they’re always looking for solutions, and they don’t charge you a nickel.”