September 25, 2018

Bad Medicine at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center

On February 28 of this year I had ananterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery on my neck at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank. The surgery was a success and I have been pain free since I woke up from surgery. I was not only blessed to have a great surgical outcome, but I wrote about my experience with the clergy at Saint Joe’s because they impacted my experience.

Chaplain Phil Kiehl and Rebecca Stringer from the chaplain’s office both came to pray with me. Phil said a prayer with me and my son before my surgery, and Rebecca came and prayed with me before I went home. They were kind, and loving, and I felt the power of their prayers. They both said prayers tailored to my faith, which I appreciated. The prayers mattered and have stayed with me. I felt lucky to have had such a wonderful experience, both physically and spiritually. Sadly my good feelings about Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center did not last very long. In fact, they went from good, to bad, to disbelief, and now I am angry. Angry and disgusted by what can only be described as unethical and unprofessional practices of Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center.

I have spoken to countless people at the hospital and after the last conversation I had with an employee at Saint Joseph’s, I am left with no other choice than to not only write about it, but hire an attorney because these people are lying at every level and one can only assume I am just a drop in bucket of lies. I am standing up for not only myself, but for those who are not strong enough to stand up. If they are billing me for thousands of dollars of services that were not provided, and I was admitted for less than 24 hours, what is going on with people who are there for prolonged periods of time, or those who don’t have health insurance? As for my insurance, that is another fascinating lesson with this surgery. Medicine is amazing, but it is also very dirty and money driven.

I received a bill from the hospital for $1859.76. There was no breakdown of what it was for, just a lump sum. I had already paid for the anesthesiologist and the surgeon, so I called the hospital to ask for a breakdown of the charges, what was paid by my insurance coverage, and what the balance of $1859.76 included. They provided me with a list of charges, but there was something fishy going on. They billed $7570.51 in pharmacy charges. I was there for less than 24 hours and the only things I took was 3 Vicodin and a package of Halls throat lozenges. They billed $1840.00 for physical therapy, and I never had any physical therapy. There was also a charge of $54211.01 for Medical Supplies and $62900.00 for the operating room. I accept being charged for what they provided, but they did not provide all they have billed for. Period.

The big issues I had however were with the pharmacy and physical therapy charges. I called the hospital and said I was disputing the charges and wanted them to be reviewed. I was transferred to a woman named Jenny Ritchie in the Business Office, and explained everything to her. She told me she was going on vacation and would call me when she got back in a week. She never called. I called her back three times and finally got a hold of her. She apologized for not being in touch and needed me to explain everything to her again. I told her the hospital would not provide me a breakdown of the pharmacy charges. I also explained I was being charged for physical therapy I never received. She told me she would investigate and get back to me. I never heard from her.

A couple of weeks later I receive a letter from Saint Joseph’s telling me they had investigated my bill and determined it was correct and the bill was now due. I called the Business Office but nobody would take my call. While waiting for a call back I received a letter from Wendy Katsiotis, who is a Supervisor with the Inpatient Physical Therapy Department. A woman I’d never spoken to. Her letter let me know she investigated my case and it had been closed. I’m not sure how it can be properly investigated without anyone ever speaking to me, so I called her to ask. I explained I never received physical therapy in the hospital.  I told her I met the physical therapist, but had declined treatment in the hospital as I have been doing physical therapy for a year and was good to go. She told me she spoke to the physical therapist on duty during my stay, and she assured her she not only consulted with me, but took me on a walk around the hospital floor. I assured her that was not at all true and never happened.  She told me there “were a couple people on her floor who she thinks would totally lie, but not the girl assigned to me”. So they lie, but not the girl who met me?

I explained I never received treatment and did not go for a walk. She then told me that I was too high to remember. Considering they charged me for $7000.00 of narcotics, that might make sense, but no. I told her it would make no sense to walk around a woman who was high and had a new neck. Ms. Katsiotis then asked me if perhaps I had an opioid addiction and could function while high. So I was clear, I reiterated that only some of her employees lie and they provide physical therapy to people who are high. She said yes, wished me well with my new neck, and that was that. I called back Ms. Ritchie and got through, only to be told it was my word against theirs and the case was closed. Oy vey with these people. I then called my insurance company to let them know what was going on.

The people at Blue Shield of California were lovely. I heard from Chrystal H., and Dani C., both in the Grievance Department. I then spoke to their supervisor Danielle, who listened. She said they would investigate the charges, but at the end of the day they had a contact with the hospital, so they were able to charge what they wanted and there was not a lot Blue Shield could do about it. I did not have physical therapy, I did not have $7000.00 worth of opioids in less than 24 hours, and there is simply no way that 20 hours at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center should be billing $152,061.52 when the anesthesiologist and surgeon were paid for separately. This is unethical business practices. They are lying and it shockingly seems to be completely legal. Not cool.

I have called the hospital and asked for arbitration of the bill. I was assured someone would call me, but that was 8 days ago and no call. Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center has billed incorrectly, call me an opioid addict, told me their staff lies, and never once called to ask me what happened during my stay. I can only imagine what they get away with when nobody asks questions. I am grateful and thankful my neck is doing great, but I am not paying the bill because it is a lie. Not only are they charging for things that didn’t happen, they’re smirking while they do it because they’re protected by a contract with the insurance companies. They’ve never come across someone like me however. Don’t mess with an angel, and buckle up when an angel is keeping the faith.

Good News Comes from Angels – A Poem for Haftarah Naso by Rick Lupert

The unnamed wife of Manoah is the real story.
Just referred to as his wife or the woman.

She is the one whose barren womb
is filled with prophecy.

She is the one who must abstain for
months from wine and

all the good stuff, while her gift,
her burden, the boy whose hair

must never be cut, grows inside her.
By default she calls her husband

when the angel arrives. I’d mention
his name again, but, hardly seems fair.

She is the one who comforts
her frightened husband when the

angel exits through the fire.
The angel who never

told his name. The angel who
refused to eat. She is the real story –

This women, this angel, this
protector of life, who

met a stranger in a field, who
called him an angel.

Good news comes from strangers.
Open your doors, women and men.

You never know when your visitor
is one of them.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 22 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Beautiful Mistakes” (Rothco Press, May 2018) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets


 

Stand on any corner in Hancock Park or Beverlywood, says Avi Leibovic, and within 10 blocks you can find Orthodox teenagers engaged in weekly poker games, drug use, underage drinking and reckless sex.

Not much has changed since Leibovic was a teenager in L.A.’s Orthodox community 15 years ago.

Now 32, a lawyer, rabbi and father of six, Leibovic has made it his life’s mission to find these youth and to pull them back toward a life where they can envision a future with regular employment, a strong sense of self and a sincere love of Yiddishkeit.

Five years ago, Leibovic was approached by the prodigal son of a prominent Orthodox family for help and inspiration. Soon, their one-on-one Torah study grew into a larger group, made up mostly of recent alumni of Neve Zion, the yeshiva outside Jerusalem where Leibovic had formative experiences as a teen and young adult.

That group grew into Aish Tamid, a nonprofit that now has a staff of part-time counselors, therapists, social workers and rabbis that in the last five years has served 400 young men and teens.

At a recent free workshop in Excel that Aish Tamid offered in a mid-Wilshire office building, Leibovic is working the room, making sure everyone is set up and liberally slapping on warm handshakes, high fives and “Howah YOUs.”

He looks tired but energized, with rings of red around eyes that are the same color as his trim auburn beard. His large black velvet kippah sits low across his forehead.

Leibovic, a doting perfectionist, teaches Torah, runs a Friday night service and holds court at a “tisch” at his home, where dozens show up every Shabbos for songs and inspirational story-telling. His “guys” are anything from hard-core addicts to kids who just didn’t fit the yeshiva mold, and he helps them finish school, find jobs, go clean, reconcile with family or get back into Judaism.

Last year Leibovic took a sabbatical from his job in his family’s law firm to build Aish Tamid’s infrastructure, but he is now back at work full time. He sets aside every night from 5:30-8 p.m. for his wife and their 6-year-old triplets and three younger children.

And from 8 p.m. on, and often well into the morning, he’s there for his guys.

He can do it because he gets them. He knows their insecurities and their haunts. He speaks their language — from his dude-laced lingo with a Brooklyn accent to his knowledge of the latest music.

“If not for Avi, I would be wandering the streets of Brooklyn,” says Yitzy, a 17-year-old who now has a job and is working toward getting his high school diploma.

Leibovic has never taken a salary from Aish Tamid, and he admits the work is taking a toll on him and his family.

But he’s sticking with it.

“If you give the kids time and if you give them love, if you give them the opportunity to express themselves in a way that is not cookie-cutter, you see tremendous success,” he says. “Guys who have been written off by their schools, their family and their community, we find that we are able to rekindle their aish tamid [eternal flame].”

For information call (323) 634-0505 or email to info@aishtamid.org.

 

MORE MENSCHES

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Men in Black

The 74th Annual Academy Awards program will be remembered, at least by me, for women’s gowns with faux see-through gauze fronts and men’s suit jackets down to the knees.

Sunday night. For my town, Malibu, Oscar night is a kind of Yom Kippur. Roads are deserted; the local restaurants close early. The sky sparkles with possibility, in which any kind of magic or healing might occur.

It was 9 p.m. I was at home with my parents, having already cried over Sidney Poitier’s tribute and drooled over Denzel Washington. Now I was deep into analysis of Gwyneth Paltrow’s sheer frontage when the doorbell rang.

There in my darkened doorway were two men in black mid-length coats with long, curly beards and black hats; a younger and an older man, with eyes burning so clear and bright that they seemed to be reading from an inner script. There was about their smiling countenances such a sense of purpose, that the word "messenger" sprang to mind. They knew and I knew. They had come for me.

If you read enough Torah, it can come easily to life: a blending of the "then" and the "now," the foretold and the foregone. The slightest stimulus revives the age of prophecy to our own time. Seeing these two men in black, I pictured myself alongside the biblical Abraham as he sat in his tent, healing from his circumcision, awaiting word from the three angels.

Abraham wanted an answer. So do I. Angels always come in human form. Here they were. For a second, I expected these two messengers would present me with a ticket to my destiny. If so, I was relieved to be wearing my wig, ready to go.

"Malkah!" I was shaken from my reverie by the friendly voice of Rabbi Chaim Cunin of our local Malibu Chabad, addressing me by my Hebrew first name. He waves to me on my daily walks as he drives his SUV and talks on his cell phone.

"My father was in the neighborhood and wants to give you a prayer." Sure enough, the older man was Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad Lubavitch.

"It’s the Rebbe’s birthday!" the elder Cunin booms out. "You need a blessing."

I certainly do.

Now let us talk about the power of suggestion: How much do you want something, and to what length will you go to get it?

As a person with lung cancer, I know there is only so much that medicine can do. After that, prayer must step in.

The other day, I began a new form of drug, an experimental clinical trial. The drug is so new it only has a number, not a name. It has the potential to work a miracle. That miracle is my prayer.

I am not the only one who is praying. Each time I see my oncologist, he looks at me for answers. His eyes get focused and he studies me for responses. The expert and the novice, neither of us know.

Prayer is possibility; it is the statement: "I don’t know all." Prayer asks, take me beyond my current knowledge to do good work.

Even the traditional kinds of prayer seek the extraordinary, the new.

I invited the rabbis into the living room where my parents were busy looking for Russell Crowe.

The Cunins presented us with a box of shmura matzah.

The elder Cunin asked my full Hebrew name.

"Malkah bas Henya," I said.

Then, while the TV screen showed Halle Berry’s sheer gown embroidered with silk flowers, the Chabad rabbi chanted at great decibel, for God and all of Malibu to hear, the traditional prayer for a full and speedy recovery.

I am getting answers to questions I have not asked.

The Truth Hurts

Before God created the human being, according to alegend of the Midrash, He consulted the angels of heaven. The angelof peace argued, “Let him not be created; he will bring contentioninto the world.” But the angel of compassion countered, “Let him becreated; he will bring lovingkindness into the world.” The angel oftruth argued, “Let him not be created; he will be deceitful and fillthe world with lies.” And the angel of justice countered, “Let him becreated; he will attach himself to righteousness.” What did God do?He threw truth into the Earth and proceeded to create the humanbeing.

The Rabbis knew that there is a fundamentalincompatibility between human beings and truth. We don’t want truth.We can’t tolerate truth. Especially truth about ourselves — ourfailures, our limitations, our finitude. Once a year, at Yom Kippur,Jewish tradition forces us to face the truth.

Yom Kippur is an unusual holiday. We are such apassionately life-affirming culture. We cherish and sanctify life.Any ritual law of the tradition may be suspended to save or protect ahuman life. We say “L’Chaim!” (“To Life!”) over every glass ofwine.

But on Yom Kippur, we confront death. We rehearsedeath. We deny the body — fasting (which, for Jews, is a form ofdeath), abstaining from sexual intimacy, and removing our jewelry andfinery, our fashionable clothes, our polished, comfortable shoes, todon the simplest of garb. Tradition dictates the wearing of a kittel– a death shroud. In medieval monasteries, monks slept each night intheir coffins, to remind themselves that the wage of sin is death.That’s morbid. But to don a shroud once a year, to seriously confrontdeath, is cleansing. For, in the face of death, all therationalizations, all the excuses, all the defenses fall away, and weare forced to see who and what we really are.

The philosopher Franz Rosensweig taught that onYom Kippur, the Jew is given the unique opportunity to see his or herlife through the eyes of eternity. From the vantage of eternity, whatin our lives matters? What is real? What is important? What isvaluable? And what, from eternity’s perspective, are all the needlessobsessions and worries that waste our souls and sap ourstrength?

Despite all our evasions, the truth is that wedon’t have an endless string of tomorrows. Life is finite. And life’sfinitude forces us to have priorities and makes our choicesimportant. Pretend for a moment that you had only 25 hours to live.To whom would you run to say, “Thank you” or “I’m sorry” or “I loveyou”? What relationships would you attempt to resolve, to repair?What would you be proud of in your life? What would you regret? Whatwould you most miss? Now, why are you waiting? I have been a rabbilong enough to know that the saddest, most bitter tears at thegraveside are those for the life not lived, for the love not shared,for the tenderness not expressed, for the words unspoken.

“Teach us to number our days,” prays the Psalmist,”to get us a heart of wisdom.” Ordinarily a morbid thought. But oncea year, confronting the truth liberates us from the bondage ofillusions and excuses so that we can begin the new year with renewedstrength, with renewed vision, with renewed hope. Gemar Tov. May yoube sealed in God’s Book of Life for a year of sweetness and peace.

Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom inEncino.