Philip Sharp: Senior with cancer chooses between medicine and food – Entertainment – Austin American-Statesman
Philip Sharp is battling a case of the sniffles, but, beyond that, he says he’s feeling good.
He’s got his cat of 13 years, Sweetheart. He’s talked to his daughter, Jessica, recently, and the PBS signal is still coming in strong.
You’d never know that days earlier the soft-spoken Sharp had finished his most recent round of chemotherapy treatment.
Sharp is not prone to self-pity or asking for much help. On the day in question, as he stands in his modest apartment talking to me via a Zoom connection facilitated by his case manager with Family Eldercare, Sharp expresses gratitude for the assistance he’s received and the minimal side effects of the treatments for a cancerous lesion recently removed from his bladder. He also is slated to undergo gallbladder removal surgery in the spring.
While his polite demeanor and tender nature serve as no sign for concern, the truth is that recently the 65-year-old, who lives alone with Sweetheart, was dangerously close to having to make this choice: paying for medicine or paying for food.
On lean days like those, Sharp turned to a simple diet of canned beans. You’d be hard-pressed to get him to complain about it. He will talk about food, however. The things he loves. Like a pizza loaded with meat. Tacos. And the Hungry Man meals that Jessica delivered to him recently.
Sharp has lived in Austin since 1998, and while he’s had a long tenure in town, his social circle remains limited. He turns to online chat rooms to make friends with folks his age and talk about their lifestyles, and finds joy in watching PBS shows about American history and science.
“I’m not a real socialite,” Sharp says.
Sharp, who successfully manages schizoaffective disorder through a medication regimen, studied chemistry in college. The jazz flutist also studied music, forestry and computer science but eventually cut short a college education that included stints at Stephen F. Austin University and what is now Texas State University.
“It was all so boring; I couldn’t take it anymore,” Sharp says dryly.
After a period of homelessness following a divorce and car accident, Sharp received assistance from Family Eldercare, the organization that nominated him for Season for Caring, which helped stabilize his living situation.
The nonprofit has assisted Sharp, who lives off of disability benefits, with the stress of managing his finances and staying on top of his medical appointments and mounting bills. For that, Sharp is very grateful.
“It makes me feel very comforted to know somebody is going to be there,” Sharp says.
More Season for Caring.
Dr. Philip R. Lee, who as a leading federal health official and fighter for social justice under President Lyndon B. Johnson wielded government Medicare money as a cudgel to desegregate the nation’s hospitals in the 1960s, died on Oct. 27 in a hospital in Manhattan. He was 96.
The cause was heart arrhythmia, his wife, Dr. Roz Lasker, said.
From his office at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, as the assistant secretary for health and scientific affairs from 1965 to 1969, Dr. Lee engineered the introduction of Medicare, which was established for older Americans in 1965, one year after Johnson had bulldozed his landmark civil-rights bill through Congress.
“To Phil, Medicare wasn’t just a ‘big law’ expanding coverage; it was a vehicle to address racial and economic injustice,” his nephew Peter Lee, the executive director of Covered California, which runs the state’s health care marketplace under the Affordable Care Act, was quoted as saying in a tribute by the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Lee was the university’s chancellor from 1969 to 1972, after leaving the Johnson administration.
Dr. Lee’s use of Medicare funding to desegregate hospitals “changed the economic lives of millions of seniors,” Mr. Lee added.
Provisions in the Medicare legislation subjected 7,000 hospitals nationwide to rules barring discrimination against patients on the basis of race, creed or national origin. The law required equal treatment across the board — from medical and nursing care to bed assignments and cafeteria and restroom privileges — and barred discrimination in hiring, training or promotion.
Before the law took effect in 1966, fewer than half the hospitals in the country met the desegregation standard and less than 25 percent did in the South.
“I remember during one of my visits,” Dr. Lee told the journal of the American Society on Aging in 2015, “a cardiologist at Georgia Baptist Hospital told me, ‘Well, you know, Dr. Lee, if I put a nigger in with one of my white patients, it would kill the patient. My patient would die of a heart attack.’”
By February 1967, a year or less after many of the law’s provisions had taken effect, 95 percent of hospitals were compliant, Dr. Lee said.
“He was largely responsible for that effort,” said Professor David Barton Smith of Drexel University and author of “The Power to Heal: Civil Rights, Medicare and the Struggle to Transform America’s Health System” (2016).
Dr. Lee hailed from a family of physicians — his father and four siblings were doctors — and while working in the Palo Alto Medical Clinic (now the Palo Alto Medical Foundation), which his father founded, he saw firsthand the effects on the poor and the elderly of inadequate health care and the lack of insurance coverage.
As early as 1961, he was a consultant on aging to the Santa Clara Department of Welfare in California, and as a member of the American Medical Association and a Republican at the time, he defied both the A.M.A. and his party