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CORE: An Example of People Power

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

This post is dedicated to Tom Wageman a very smart person with unique leadership abilities.

Last weekend the Citizens Organizing for Resources and Environment (CORE)” met at Twin Oaks Ranch in Fannin County Texas for a thank you party for the three young people who helped lead the group. CORE was formed originally when several people became aware of TXU’s plan to build a “Dirty Coal Burning Plant” in the backyard of the Savoy Texas Independent School System’s school buildings.

Each citizen recruited friends to join the group and learn more about the environmental hazard of burning dirty coal. The group was interested in learning the effect it would have on our children’s health and on the lakes and soil in both Fannin and Grayson County. A Goggle group was set up and they were off to the educational races. The goal was networking the community electronically and providing instant information and education on the issue of the “Dirty Coal Plants” affect on our environment.

Citizens from all over the hillsides of North Central Texas started to participate in the news group. Many added information and insight for the education of all of us. The brain power was additive. Shortly after Dallas Mayor Laura Miller made presentations at the Bells and Savoy town hall meetings, Bells and Savoy joined the Coalitions of Texas Cities. Bells is a city of 1700 people and Savoy less than 800 people. TXU decided to build its coal plant in Savoy expecting little opposition. Bells and Savoy received special standing with the coalition because they were close to ground zero. Our lakes and soil were going to be contaminated with mercury and our air with particulate matter, sulfuric acid and nitric acid.

I was especially interested in the medical aspects of these contaminants. Mercury levels are related to the incidence of autism and attention deficit syndrome. The others are related to asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease. It has been calculated that lung disease from particulate matter, sulfuric and nitric acid represent an expenditure of $34 billion dollars per year to the healthcare system. This does not include the pain and suffering in the affected communities. The toll for autism and attention deficit syndrome to local school systems and families is unable to be estimated. A guess by an autism specialist at University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School was a cost nationally of $100 billion dollar in hard and soft costs.

Our governor, Rick Perry was not interested in listening to anyone, especially a few dozen country folks as he was fast tracking the TXU permits to build the “Dirty Coal Plants”. However, the movement (CORE) with the use of internet communications grew and grew as leadership of the Dallas Business Coalition for a Clean Environment joined in. Many small towns joined and we were finally got the Texas legislature aroused.

We all know the result. KKR bought TXU and promised the citizens of Texas they would not seek to build all the coal plants TXU wanted to build. They also promised to clean up the old “Dirty Coal Burning Plants in Texas. Texas is the most polluted state in the nation. KKR also promised to lower our electric bills by 15%. The question remaining is whether KKR/TXU will stand by their promises.

My main point is small groups of people can grow into large groups of people protecting their property, health, and childrens’ health from the dysfunction of the government and industry. We got the attention of old school institutions and positive change resulted.

While we rejoiced, I told everyone this might be a trick play on KKR/TXU’s part. We were relieved that this idyllic part of Texas would be spared deadly contamination. We were also very proud of the small role we played in making it happen.

Last weekend we had a party at Tom Wagemen’s Ranch to thank the three people who helped lead us in this truly citizen driven movement. It convinced me that people as consumers and as the electorate can have an impact on the system. If we understand the data and facts we have phenomenal power and potential. Most importantly, the exercise created a sense of community and friendships among neighbors that did not exist before the group was formed. One person told me that he knew none of these people before CORE. Everyone should know that medically participation in community activities is good for your health and well being.

In the hyper speed technological society the people can impact societies’ slow paced, malfunctioning, obsolete institutions and overcome the inertia of the institutional structures of the old society.

In the United States our culture smiles at innovators, supports positive change makers, and roots for the underdog. People are all feeling a sense of frustration. They are the underdogs to our bureaucracies, clogged courts, legislative myopia, pathological incrementalism and power of vested interest lobbyists. However, with ‘People Power’ we have the brain power and the purchasing power to change our disadvantaged position. Our small group (CORE) was able to demonstrate “People Power” and ignite the interest and support of others feeling the same frustration.
I applaud the CORE group’s leadership.

I also believe with the appropriate understanding of the data, the information and the knowledge that can be derived about the healthcare system, Americans can create the solutions to the healthcare systems problems. Americans want the enormous benefits of the greatest medical care on the planet. They will root out, replace, or radically restructure the legacy institutions which stand in the way. The knowledge about the healthcare system will be communication by physician blogs on the internet. Some innovator working in a large company will come along, produce a medical insurance program, the ideal Medical Savings Account, and the healthcare system will be restructured overnight. The employees want it. The employer wants it. The government wants its. The physicians want it. We need stronger leadership that want to really understand the problem and not leadership that is seeking the best sound bite to win votes.

One problem is that politicians, policy wonks, and government do not understand the patient-physician relationship and its importance to clinical and financial outcomes. They do not understand the patients’ responsibility for their care nor the physicians’ responsibilities in the medical care system. They focus their efforts on commoditizing healthcare and imposing formulas on the healthcare system for physicians and patients to follow. Eighty percent of the population does not use the medical care system because at any one time only 20% of the people are sick. They have no idea of the need for a positive patient physician relationship as a therapeutic tool.
Shel Israel, coauthor of Naked Conversations wrote to my blog this winter, “repairing the medical system in America is a lofty goal and about 98 percent of the American people see the need. The rest work for insurance companies.”

To me those odds seem pretty good. All we have to do is educate Americans and free them from the political spinning of disinformation. I believe this blog and other blogs written by physicians will help Americans understand what is happening to them and the healthcare system. People power will then force legacy institutions to respond, thereby changing the healthcare system to the advantage of the patient.

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