North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News


August 10, 2006

The Weekly Wrap

The Island of Harvey
A blind citizen-activist tugs at the tangled wires of bureaucracy

The Weekly Wrap


FAIR AND JUST: If St. Joseph Hospital management and nurses do not come to an agreement over employment contracts by Wednesday, Aug. 9, RNs have threatened to strike on Aug. 17 and 18. The Eureka hospital, meanwhile, has a team of "highly skilled and professional" nurses ready to fill in for a minimum of four days. On Tuesday, Kathryn Donahue, a St. Joe ICU nurse and member of the California Nurses Association negotiating team said St. Joe nurses do not want to strike and that, typically, bargaining is ironed out at the 11th hour. They have never resorted to a strike before, she said. "But sometimes," Donahue said, "you just have to take a stand when the issues are so important." The most important issue to nurses, she explained, is patient safety. It is the contention of the RNs that care at St. Joe's has been compromised since May when 74 layoffs occurred in the wake of a financial meltdown.

Among the contract deal-breakers are revamped language concerning "floating" (RNs are currently required by management to cover shifts in areas of the hospital outside of their expertise, where staffing might be low on any given day); maintaining nurse-to-patient staffing ratios as mandated by state law; successorship, which upholds their contract if the hospital is sold; and better pay.

In a press release issued by St. Joe's p.r. department Monday titled, "St. Joseph Hospital Prepares for Nurse's Strike — Commitment to Quality Care is Unwavering," the hospital did not discuss floating, ratios or successorship but instead blamed stalled negotiations squarely on compensation squabbles. "St Joseph Hospital has had a difficult year financially, and we believe our offer was fair and just," said Interim St. Joe CEO and Navigant Consultant Joe Mark in the missive. A pay raise of 4 to 10 percent starting January 2007 was offered. "Our hope is that our nurses will see that this proposal is a genuine reflection of our commitment to them."

Even if the hospital is doing its best to pony up more money for nurses, it still is not enough to keep some RNs in the area. "It is not a competitive wage," Donahue said. "I know nurses that have already done their job interviews other places and will be leaving. They're nurses who have been here a long time." An RN only needs to go to hospitals in Crescent City, Ukiah or Redding for better paying positions, she said. As it is now, according to Donahue, St. Joe nurses are overworked and take sick days to cope with emotional stress and physical exhaustion.

In recent weeks, Mark has asserted that the hospital is still struggling financially in part because nurses have scared away potential patients with their claims of unsafe conditions.

Helen Sanderson


SPONTANEOUS PEACE: Spunky SoHum peace activist Ellen Taylor called us after all sorts of deadlines to get some ink for a late breaking event — a peace rally this Saturday, Aug. 12, at noon on the Humboldt County courthouse steps in Eureka. "The objective is to attract attention," she explained. We felt obliged. The gathering was organized kind of last-minute, Taylor said, triggered by the "murderous" Congressional vote to support Israel's attack on Lebanon. "There are cease-fire rallies happening all over the country, all the major cities and the capitals of Europe as well," Taylor said. Rapidly. "We finally just got one together." The rally will have the dual function to protest the war in Iraq. Participants are encouraged to bring signs with anti-war messages. Questions? Contact Taylor at 629-3500 or 441-1624 ext. 128.

Helen Sanderson


POLITICS QUICK: Campaign season is heating up and our inbox is getting plump with announcements from HumCo candidates and wonks. Here's a sample: At noon, Friday at Eureka City Hall Mayor Peter LaVallee is scheduled to announce his bid for a second term. Also in Eureka, Kritter Kountry owner Randall Herzon withdrew his candidacy for Eureka's Third Ward last week so as not to detract votes from candidate Ron Kuhnel, the Planning Commissioner and Eureka Heritage Society president who is set to challenge incumbent Jeff Leonard.

Alison Nichols, District Attorney Paul Gallegos' former campaign manager, is back in Texas with the Sheehan-crew at Camp Casey as part of the Gold Star Families for Peace. And on the topic of peace, the HumCo supes are seeking applicants to serve on the Human Rights Commission, the Housing Authority Commission and the Assessment Appeals Board. Call 476-2384 for the low-down on eligibility.

Howard Rien of the Humboldt Taxpayers League and a former Times-Standard employee is worked up about the Eureka Utility Tax situation and the projected 7 percent budget shortfall that is predicted if the tax fails. "I for one, and judging by the phone calls, feel that this is really misleading the public," he writes. "The budget is closed, so obviously the city has been betting on the come. Any casino can talk to you on those odds." Um, speaking of casinos, Fred Mangels, the Humboldt Libertarian blogger, sparked some conversation on his site about disenrollment of Indian tribal members if they oppose political positions taken by casinos. Meanwhile, Fred is still waiting for Nancy Flemming to stop by his place on her door-to-door campaign trek through Eureka to boot HumCo Supervisor Bonnie Neely from District 4.

And on Tuesday, Aug. 8, the Redwood Peace and Justice Center sent off a last minute form letter plea, penned by Michael Twombly, asking environmentally conscious Californians to tell senate and assembly members to oppose SB1056, which would, he says, "override future restrictions on genetically engineered crops and seeds, as well as all other local regulation of seeds."

Helen Sanderson


SPRAWL NOT: It's hard to believe that sprawl (or a big timber cut) could happen in the lush wooded slopes behind Sunnybrae, off Old Arcata Road, where trails and creeks course through the trees and wildlife find refuge. But when you live next to such a gift, you're unwise to take it for granted. That's what Sunnybrae residents figured six years ago, when they began raising money to help the city of Arcata buy the 175-acre Sunny Brae Forest from Sierra Pacific Industries and add it to the Arcata Community Forest. Last Thursday, the Sunnybrae/Arcata Neighborhood Alliance received another batch of donations, amounting to $6,000, said alliance director Mark Lovelace in a news release last Friday.

"Combined with other recent donations, SANA now has another $10,000 to add to the $70,000 it raised previously," Lovelace said. "SANA has now raised a total of over $80,000 towards its goal of $100,000 to help the city of Arcata purchase this forest."

In 2002, said Lovelace, SPI offered to sell the forest to Arcata for $2.7 million. The Sunnybrae alliance offered to raise part of that, and is now just $20,000 short of the amount it promised."The Sunny Brae Forest will provide an open-space buffer against sprawl, and will be managed for recreation, watershed and habitat protection, and sustainable forestry," Lovelace said.

Heidi Walters


The Island of Harvey
A blind citizen-activist tugs at the tangled wires of bureaucracy

story and photo by HEIDI WALTERS

Harvey Jossem and his caregiver, Shaun Case, hauled a small, worn, brown-topped card table out of the dark cave of Jossem's crumbling, green, cramped little house and propped it up in the front yard. Next they brought out some mismatched stools. The early afternoon sun shone on the rooftops of this isolated pocket of rundown houses in northeast Eureka — where Dial-A-Ride often gets lost and is a no-show — and warmed the dirt of the unnamed alley that serves as Jossem's and his neighbors' front-door street. But Jossem's house and yard were enveloped in the shadow of a towering tree, of unremembered heritage, rising from one edge of his property. Jossem planted it in 1961, back when he bought the little house for $6,000 and he could still see. "It was supposed to be a hedge," he said. But it turned into a storybook tree, with several merged graceful trunks soaring into a dark, round canopy. A lilac, perhaps.Photo of Kevin the Cat, Harvey Jossem and two troublesome phones

From the house next door where a music teacher lives, the voice of a man warming up his vocal chords rose and fell through an open window: "oh OH oh OH OH oh OH oh oh." From the house on the other side of Jossem's, three little kids ran into the alley and then back, flying past the fence where their laundry hung, and into the back yard where they keep a goat, giggling and talking in Spanish. A leaf fell from the giant tree into Jossem's hand and he smiled, exclaiming, "Oh, a leaf!"

Left: Kevin the Cat, Harvey Jossem and two troublesome phones.

Case shivered in the cold shade. But not the "100 percent Norwegian" Jossem, sitting there in his tan T-shirt with its Native American peace pipe design. But though he was calm, and smiling, something was putting him on edge: Namely, the telephone company — the now-merged AT&T/SBC behemoth — and its stubborn rule that has stripped Jossem, because of his disability, of the choice to pay his phone bill however he wants to. The hours he's spent trying to get to the bottom of the change in his service has eaten up precious time that might better have been spent, as Case puts it, "reading Washington Spectator." It was time away from Amy Goodman, Science Friday, and the myriad other talk shows and news programs that fill Jossem's days. And that was why he'd invited a reporter over, to sit at the little card table for an afternoon chat that stretched into evening.

The 76-year-old Jossem hasn't always been blind. He was born with glaucoma, but he could see well enough to read and become a news junkie at a young age, to see the Boulder Dam being constructed, to be a bicycle messenger in San Francisco, to climb the oldest oak tree alive (near Chico), to fall in love with Eureka on a trip up here with his brother in 1954 ("It was beautiful; it was exquisite"), to develop a preference for orange cats, to ride a moped — until one day on Myrtle Avenue when a truck hit his moped, his head hit the truck, and his vision declined into darkness over the ensuing six years. By the time he was 41, he was blind.

One thing that didn't change was Jossem's passion for justice, news and politics. That passion developed early: As president at his high school in Berkeley, he changed the rule that had said girls couldn't be president and boys couldn't be secretary. He belonged to the Peace and Freedom Party — "before it was kicked off the ballot," he says — and once tried to run for state assembly on the P&F ticket because no one else would (there was a problem with the paperwork; Jossem almost sued). Now he's in the Green Party. Case accompanied him on the last peace march through town.

"What did they call me?" he said, sitting at the card table, after recounting a Nixon-era tale. "They said I was a 'social co-op anarchist.'" And if anyone tries to tell him he's just a complainer, Jossem will answer: "You've got to fight back a little bit."

But even so, in his isolated neighborhood, in his small house whose back steps need fixing and where his main connection to the world is the radio (his computer blew up awhile back), and in an isolated county — it's like, someone said that day while sitting in his yard, he's "on an island within an island."

So, he's got to shout even louder.

Now the man next door was singing, "Where was I? Where was I?" Sitting at the card table, which by now had been moved into the sunny alley, Jossem asked Case to bring out the old phone the phone company gave him in 1973. Awhile back, when a friend urged him to get a new free phone that the phone company was offering, he got into a battle of wills: The company demanded he send the old phone back first; he balked, said it was silly. He won that one. Case put the old phone on the table, as evidence. "Want me to get the new phone, Harvey?" he asked, then went back inside the house to fetch it. Coming back out, Case set the new phone next to the old phone. More evidence. One of Jossem's four cats — orange-furred Kevin, named after a young friend of Jossem's who died in the 1970s in a wreck on Humboldt Hill — jumped onto the table and flopped next to the phones.

The second go around with the telephone company started "sometime around November or December," Jossem said, when he tried to pay his phone bill the same way he's been paying it for about the past three years. He waited until after 8 p.m. — when the customer service people go home and an automated system takes over — and he speed dialed the number. The automatic recording asked him, as usual, to punch in his phone number. Which he did. But then, instead of going through the paces — speed-dialing his checking account's routing number, punching in the amount he wanted to pay, and the date, and so forth — the recording said, "The office is closed. Please call back."

Jossem called back. And called back. "I thought the office was really closed," he said, laughing. "And this went on for three or four months." Then one day his friend Blue came over and asked Jossem to pay his phone bill for him. Blue doesn't have a checking account, and sometimes he gives Jossem the money he owes and Jossem pays Blue's bill from his checking account. Well, the automated system took Blue's phone number just fine. But, again, not Jossem's — the office "was closed."

"So they've got it rigged so that my phone number doesn't work," Jossem said.

Jossem finally called customer service. Four representatives and many weeks later — with Case joining in on the calls — the closest explanation they received was that because Jossem is blind and receives "accessibility services" — free directory assistance, free speed dial — and because he has a free phone from the phone company, he can no longer use the automated system. One rep. had actually figured out the problem and, for one month — June — Jossem was able to pay his phone bill the way he likes to. But in July he was back to having to call in the daytime and talk to a person. It's inconvenient, Jossem says, and requires him to pay his caregiver for the extra time it takes to deal with one more bill, or to pay by check. He could, he supposes, have it automatically withdrawn from his checking account — but that's not a good option because sometimes there isn't enough money in his account on that particular day — living on a $10,500-a-year fixed income, money gets stretched. But his reasons are perhaps irrelevant, because what he's fighting for is his right to pay his bill however he chooses to, just like a sighted person gets to. The rep. named Amy told him, if he insisted on his right to the automated system, he could just send that new free phone right back and give up free speed dial and free 411.

"She was so strong about it — very adamant," said Jossem. "And what I wonder is, how many other people are being affected by this?"

A couple of days after that meeting with Jossem, a call to AT&T/SBC's "accessibility services" department yielded pretty much the same answer: People with disabilities can't use the automated system any more. A phone rep, "Eva," said Jossem's account showed "a Code 53."

"It's a block in the system," she said. "Because his account is coded to get 411 for free — and so he gets speed-dialing for free — the computer is blocking him" from using the automated system to pay his bill after hours. Yes, she said, he has to talk to a person — or pay online, or with a check, or have it automatically withdrawn. She said she didn't know why this was so, but surmised that perhaps it's because there are all sorts of people with all sort of disabilities out there — maybe this somehow was protecting them from abuses.

But Jossem isn't the only one complaining about the revoked service. Dan Kysor, governmental affairs director with the California Council for the Blind in West Sacramento, said on Monday that he has been complaining about this very same issue. "I'm blind," he said. "I have two phones: On my work phone, I can use the automated system because I'm not signed up for special services. On my personal phone at home, I receive free directory assistance, and that does not allow me to use the automated system."

Kysor said he had the problem even before the merger. "I have complained," he said. "I really enjoy using the automated system. Now I have to deal with a person." That has meant, at times, being put on hold for 10 minutes or longer waiting for an operator to assist him. With the automated system, it takes about three minutes to pay a phone bill.

Some people might say, well, why don't Jossem, Kysor and other people just deal with the change and get over it?

"This isn't a question of adapting," Kysor said. It's a matter, he said, of having the same options that sighted people have — especially if they make things easier in a world that's just a little bit more difficult to negotiate when you're blind.

A few days later, on the phone, Jossem emphasized this point: "If there was a sensible reason for it, I'd accept that," he said. "But this is totally nonsense. And I don't think we should have to put up with nonsense."



Comments? Write a letter!

North Coast Journal Weekly

© Copyright 2006, North Coast Journal, Inc.