Dysfunctional healthcare system failed Milton Ming
We, the undersigned, are a group of men and women who came together to help our dear friend, Milton Ming, so that he could travel to the United States for the urgent, life-saving heart surgery his cardiologist had prescribed. We call ourselves “Team Milton”.
Milton Ming was a man of courage and conviction. He had the strength to ask for help, and he knew it wasn’t a sign of weakness to put his faith and his trust in other people to do what is right. This was a man who never failed to express his appreciation for belonging to a group of people who, as he put it, valued “we above me”.
It’s in this spirit of doing what is right and valuing “we above me” that we are writing this letter.
Milton’s quest for overseas treatment for a deadly heart aneurysm was complicated by being underinsured and by being on the US “stop” list because of decades-old convictions for three drug offences. As a result, we needed to raise extra funds to meet the medical costs not covered by Milton’s HIP insurance, and we had to secure a waiver to allow him to travel to the US.
There were many agencies and medical personnel involved in laying the groundwork for Milton to travel to the US. These included the Bermuda Hospitals Board, the Dialysis Unit of the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, the Registrar-General, the Lady Cubitt Compassionate Association, the Bermuda Police Service and the US Consulate General in Bermuda.
As we attempted to advocate to these various organisations on Milton’s behalf — during which time Milton suffered a heart attack, which he survived — his case became an almost indecipherable labyrinth of confusing and conflicting communications caused by a complete lack of co-ordination among those involved in his case.
At one point, Milton — who was also undergoing daily dialysis treatments — was told that he must seek immediate medical treatment overseas, or he would die. A few days after that, he was told medical travel would not be necessary. Several days later, Milton was told that he did, indeed, need to get overseas as quickly as possible. No one could tell Milton, or us, why the medical opinion regarding the urgency of his condition changed so dramatically or even who reversed course on how urgent the treatment was.
In the midst of these 180-degree turns emanating from an unknown and unidentifiable source or sources within Bermuda’s healthcare system, we discovered that Milton’s case for medical travel had been closed, unbeknown to Milton, and unbeknown to his social worker and cardiologist.
This brought all activity to a complete halt and made fundraising and any other advocacy impossible because, technically, his health crisis had ceased to exist.
The day before Christmas, Milton learnt that his waiver for medical travel to the US had been secured, significant funds had been raised, and plans for his treatment in a world-class hospital were almost complete. It was the best present he, and we, could have received.
From the start of our involvement to the receipt of this wonderful news, almost six weeks passed while this warm, loving, exuberant man waited, not knowing from one day to the next what his fate would be. We are haunted by the inevitable question of whether faster action would have saved his life. We believe that it would have.
In this instance, the process completely broke down. It should not have required the aggressive steps that we had to take to get his case reopened and to keep the system focused on Milton. It should not have taken so long to resolve the administrative stumbling blocks that we kept encountering. It should not have taken more than a dozen White men and women using their connections and influence to break through the many logjams we faced.
Most grievously and most heartbreaking, Milton should not have had to die to bring this unacceptable process to the attention of the public. But he did die.
We are not accusing anyone involved in Milton’s case of not caring about him or not wanting a successful outcome. But the lack of a sense of urgency for a desperately ill man, bordering on a laissez faire attitude, was appalling. The vacuum and complete absence of leadership in planning and co-ordination was glaring. The absence of one point person — to represent Milton and to liaise with the LCCA, the BHB and medical personnel to make sure he received the treatment he needed and deserved — was inexcusable.
And to make matters worse, at no time did anyone in a position to make a real difference in Milton’s care take the bull by the horns and make things happen.
It must be noted, however, that Sam Mir, Director of Cardiology at the BHB, responded and acted immediately to any direct communication from us, as did the office of the Registrar-General, which moved immediately to grant the temporary licence we needed to raise funds for Milton, and the US Consulate General, which expedited Milton’s travel waiver and approved it within a few days. We will be forever grateful for their quick and meaningful action.
There are thousands of Bermudians who, like Milton, can’t afford more than basic healthcare and who would suffer financial and emotional turmoil if faced with a serious illness. They don’t have advocates who keep pressing on. They can’t, and they shouldn’t have to, make sense of our dysfunctional healthcare, where financial advantage and White privilege are baked into the system.
It has been said many times before, but it must continue to be said: there is no excuse for a country like Bermuda to allow anyone to fall through the cracks to the degree that Milton would have, save for “Team Milton”. A group of loving friends shouldn’t be needed to make the difference between life and death.
It is in Milton’s memory that we share his story. We fervently hope that it will resonate with someone who has the power to address the systemic breakdown that, based on our experience, occurs far too easily and far too often between the various government, non-profit and medical bodies involved in delivering urgent healthcare to Bermuda’s underinsured.
MARGARET ANN ELLIOT, Warwick
DOROTHY GAZZARD, Smith’s
GORDON R. JOHNSON, Paget
DODI MASON, Somerset
TAMMY NORDQUIST, St David’s
CASEY O’BRIEN, Warwick