CHICAGO — Two blocks east of Chicago’s posh Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue, in the shadow of the spectacular John Hancock skyscraper, sits the world’s leading hospital and research enterprise in physical medicine and rehabilitation, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
It is a place of hard fought miracles, and it’s where the latest chapter of Cincinnati restaurateur Bret Walls has played out over the last 6 weeks. Brett has progressed beyond all hope from the death sentence of a massive stroke and the in-body prison of Locked In Syndrome. With advances more dramatic than I described in August, Brett has amazed the medical staff of RIC with his determination and encouraging steps toward recovery.
This miraculous progress pleases everyone, that is except for what Brett, family, and friends have come to see as the anti-miracle, United Healthcare, which continues to make every possible attempt to block ongoing therapy for Brett.
On Friday, UHC informed Brett’s wife, Gayle, that they would be cutting short his time at RIC because he is not meeting their “criteria.” From their past obfuscation it’s hard to know what that means; sometimes UHC delays or denies payment because Brett’s making too much progress (doesn’t need aggressive help) and other times it’s because he’s making too little progress (this will never work). What is clear is their threat to stop paying for Brett’s continuing care at RIC next week. On Monday, they indicated that they’re pulling him from the world’s leading rehabilitation center because he’s not walking yet .
This continues a pattern of disruption, deception, and obstruction that has slowed Brett’s recovery and put the family on the edge of financial ruin. And it is clear to all those close to the situation that Brett would be even further into his recovery–perhaps even walking–if UHC had agreed to aggressive rehab much earlier, on their own, rather than being forced to by the Ohio insurance overseers.
When Brett lay prone in a Cincinnati hospital, clinging to life with a prognosis of lifelessness, at best, UHC refused to accept his courage and detemination and sought to dash all hope for progress. He did not meet the criteria for hope.
When he progressed against all odds, breathing unassisted, swallowing, holding up his head, moving toes, fingers, then shifting arms and legs, gripping, sitting tall, and much more, UHC did not rejoice with the family. UHC did not recognize the sheet humanity of supporting human progress. UHC did not pledge to support Brett in his battle for vitality; his effort to speak, to stand and walk, to hug his wife and live a normal life.
Instead, he no longer meets UHC criteria for aggressive rehabilitation because although he has defied all expectations and made huge strides in recovery, he is not walking. Not yet.
United Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies, and yes, one of the most reviled and mistrusted, has shown that it does not belong as a key component in the health care system, for it does not remotely follow the physician’s Hippocratic Oath to “willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood.”
Family and friends have stood by Brett’s wife Gayle, who has poured her life into the battle against medical odds and insurance company paralysis. And there is growing support on social media, with Ohio’s key politicians, and among the people of faith, who have given and spoken and prayed for Brett’s recovery. Now, here in Chicago, despite the callous obstruction of United Healthcare, Brett and caring, decent people across the country are working against evil, believing in a miracle.
Note: To support Brett, join the social media battle against @myUHC, for #BrettWalls. And please consider donating to his medical fund.