Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why is Dave Heineman So Scared of S - E - X ?

by Kyle Michaelis
Gov. Dave Heineman has a son, so I guess we can assume that he and the First Lady do "make whoopee" - or, at least, have at one point. So, it might not be entirely fair to say Heineman is afraid of SEX. But, recent reports suggest that Heineman's administration has adopted a laughable-if-weren't-so-deadly puritanical policy against discussion of sex, even as a mattter of basic reproductive health amongst professionals in the Department of Health & Human Services.

More than sex per se, the Heineman Administration really seems to want to avoid any sort of controversy - with "controversy" defined as anything that might offend the farthest right-wing fringe of Christian fundamentalists.

Let's check in with the Lincoln Journal-Star to see who Heineman has been censoring:
Charles Housman said the notice came in late spring 2005: Gov. Dave Heineman’s office was clamping down on what state Health and Human Services System programs could say in communication with the public. And what they couldn’t.

No controversy. No sex. The governor’s office was to review everything before it was published or released, said Housman, who quit his state job last month as public education coordinator for HIV prevention....

Minutes from a public health management team meeting Nov. 4, 2005, confirmed the system’s adherence to a pro-life philosophy and to avoiding controversy.

Dr. Joann Schaefer, newly appointed chief medical officer and director of HHSS regulation and licensure, “reminded staff that this is a pro-life administration and she supports that,” the minutes read. “We have a process in place to look at anything that could be controversial.”

Sure enough, Housman said, over the next two years, communications and conference plans were scrutinized, sometimes changed and, in some cases, eliminated.

This spring, for example, planners of a conference for state public health workers on sexual health were notified they would have to change its name from “Issues Impacting Sexual Health” to “HIV, STDs and Reproductive Health: A Topical Update.”

“I thought it was a joke,” Housman said. “If we can’t say the word sexual in a sexual health conference, this is sad. It’s beyond sad”....

In addition to changing seminar titles, Housman and others said, workers have gotten the word that brochures, posters, Web sites and conference speakers must conform to the goal of avoiding controversy.

* Pat Tetreault, University of Nebraska-Lincoln sexuality education coordinator, was told by an HHSS staff member she was in danger of being dropped from a panel scheduled for the spring conference because the communications staff looked up her name on the Internet and saw she was associated with gay and lesbian issues....

* Dr. Bruce Trigg, a New Mexico public health physician and pediatrician with 19 years of experience in public health, was not allowed to participate in this year’s sexual health conference because Osterman Googled his name and found out he was involved in an abstinence-only controversy and dropped as a panelist at a national Centers for Disease Control conference. Trigg said he had planned to discuss recent scientific research that concluded abstinence-only programs were ineffective....

* A poster printed by HHSS’ reproductive health program to alert underage girls that having sex with a man 19 or older was against the law was not allowed to be distributed. It quoted a state law verbatim that used the word “sexual” but, workers said, officials did not want the word used on the poster.....

* A brochure for people with diabetes that had a list [of] possible symptoms eliminated “a change in sexual functioning.”

Said [Health and Human Services spokeswoman Kathie] Osterman: “We decided to take it out. … I don’t remember why. I suppose because that is kind of a personal issue. … We wondered, ‘What will people think?’

* This spring, some members of two Health and Human Services diversity teams quit because department leaders removed a speaker from a family diversity forum who was in a same-sex partnership and stopped a program in which a panel was to focus on gay and lesbian issues....

* Housman said that as administrator of the state’s HIV prevention Web site, he was not allowed to post information about human sexuality week. Earlier, he said, he couldn’t post an announcement about National Condom Week.
Is it just me or did the credibility and maturity levels of our state government just drop to zero? They actually censored a list of symptoms of diabetes for mentioning "sexual functioning". What a contemptible violation of their duty to protect the public health.

And just imagine a team of bureaucrats Googling each and every speaker, researching their backgrounds, and eliminating anyone who might challenge the party line. That's not America. That sure as hell isn't medicine. This is a tactic straight out of George Orwell's Ministry of Propaganda.

Probably the worst is HHSS spokewoman Osterman's absurd attempt to justify these outrageous policies:
The public views and interprets information in different ways, she said, and the department has to be careful not to cross a line between information and advocacy.

“Our role isn’t advocacy,” Osterman said. “Our role is to provide information and education.”

That information, she said, has to be provided in such a way as to be inclusive and to not offend people....

“I don’t see it as political.”
If your chief medical officer declaring her support for Heineman's "pro-life administration" isn't an instance of advocacy, then I don't know what is. And, honestly, what could be more political than forsaking the public health to remove mention of sexual symptoms of diabetes for fear of offending fanatics who can't tolerate sex as an issue of public debate.

This was medicine. HHSS once had a mission of information and education. But, it's Heineman's administration that has perverted this noble mission and twisted it to serve their political agenda, no matter its cost to the people's health.

Ladies and gentlemen, the patients have taken over the asylum. What's even scarier is that they seem to be politicians as well.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your article accurately reflects how politics is undermining public confidence and public health.

It reminds me much of the politics surrounding the Surgeon Generals' testimony about politics tainting science at the federal level.

Heineman is stripping the facts from science and replacing them with folklore and myth. As such, he is a menace to health.

Recently, the Chinese government executed their "FDA" leader, for receiving money while he pushed politically correct, but unhealthy products.

The execution is horrifying, but both he and this governor remain in power because they receive financial and political support for turning their backs on health and science, and embrace ignorance while they justify and practice greed.

(note: modern research shows that the patients actually SHOULD take over, then close, the asylums... employing the recovering community at health facilities is a great practice...check language, last lines...we need to close the institutions, let recovering people help each other. Many states have been working on this for decades. We should study and rethink this language re patients/asylum. Google some Recovery themes for more.)

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

[In defense of my chosen metaphor, this isn't the place for a full discussion of the movement towards mental health treatment in a community setting, but I have studied this supposed reform and - while, in general, it's had quite positive affect - I'd contend that we have gone too far to the extreme in shutting down our institutions/asylums. There are illnesses and treatments that require a higher standard of care, as well as patients for whom the risks of any other type setting are simply too high. While I regret the terrible conditions and grave injustices that sometimes occurred in traditional asylums, I fear this is a debate being driven by politicians looking for cost-savings and easy solutions rather than the actual interests of mental health patients or society.]

So, as I was saying about Gov. Heineman.....

I'm not calling for anyones execution, but it would be nice if the local media would nail him on this like he deserves. The AP/LJS article is a nice start just for getting the word out, but now it's time for Nebraska's press and its citizenry to actually call Heineman out for this inexcusable betrayal of the public welfare.

Blogger Ryan Anderson said...

[I think I let my emotions get ahead of me here. My experience specifically relates to the developmentally disabled, not the mentally ill (although there is some overlap, of course). That's a distinction I should've noted the first time around, since you two seem to be discussing primarily the other side of the coin. That sucks a little bit of confidence out of my statement, but I'll reprint it anyway]

I don't completely disagree with you, Kyle, but I do disagree quite strongly. There are certainly some patients for whom a group home setting is inappropriate, but I adamantly believe that no client is best served by isolated institutions like Beatrice. Every individual that can be served in a community setting should (and there are plenty that aren't, and that's an unspeakable and largely unspoken tragedy), those that can't are better served in a hospital than in an institution.

I know, as you say, that this isn't the appropriate forum for this discussion. And, as far as I know, you may have studied this "supposed reform" more than I have. My studies have been academic to an extent, but are mostly very personal. As someone whose father spent his life working with the worst of the worst in institutions around the world, as someone whose worked in a community setting (and certainly seen its limitations and plenty of its failures, as well as its potential), as someone who's listened to a few more former residents of these institutions than he can bare... I just can't endorse or tolerate the asylum. Not in its "traditional" form, not in its current incarnation. Organizations like ENCOR certainly aren't one size fits all, but asylums aren't the answer for anybody.


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