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Will Escape Fire Help Change Health Care?

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A lot people have been discussing the documentary film Escape Fire, and it might seem that everything’s already been said. But I can’t put the story out of my mind.



I keep thinking about what I would have done if I were one of those fire fighters. What if I had been one of those smoke jumpers who parachuted into that raging forest fire in Helena National Forest August 5, 1949, and found myself being overrun by changing fire conditions? With that terrifying inferno coming up behind him, smoke jumper foreman Wag Dodge took a counterintuitive approach. He stopped running, lit a match, and burned the brush around him, hypothesizing that the fire would jump over his area. He called on his crew to join him, but they didn’t. Dodge guessed correctly about his escape fire and survived; Thirteen members of his crew did not.

Dr. Donald Berwick, former head of Medicare and Medicaid, relates this anecdote, and ties it to the film’s point that we are embedded in the health care status quo, prisoners of old habits, and that unless we can change how we think about and deal with this situation, we are doomed to fiscal catastrophe.

So, can we think differently about health care – just as Wag Dodge did about the fire – at this very important time in our nation’s history?

Two individuals suggest good reasons why we must. Dr. Andrew Weil attests that our present health care system is not a health care system, but is instead a disease management system. And medical journalist Shannon Brownlee states, “We’re in the grip of a very big industry and it doesn’t want to stop making money.”

In many ways, changing the health care system seems impossible. Yet in Escape Fire, we follow an individual who could be like many of us. U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Yates sustained injuries in Afghanistan that left him a wreck, barely able to walk, and overwhelmingly dependent on medication. Yet, he found relief through a non-traditional alternative medicine – meditation.

Maybe this is the way that the present broken health care system will be fixed – by finding what works for each of us. Even though the film made a radical point about the urgent need to change the present health care system, its ultimate purpose is to energize the nation to address and implement a national health care system that is based upon the public’s needs, and not the entrenched or vested interests of the health care industry.

What should we be doing? Steve Burd, President and Chief Executive of grocery giant Safeway, gave his workers financial incentives to make healthy choices, and as a result Safeway’s health care costs remained stable while the national average skyrocketed. Other suggestions include a more patient-centered system, patient accountability, information in a form that is available and more helpful, and a wider use of alternative therapies (which include prayer and meditation).

Prayer is an alternative that has been effective for me over many years.

One time, I was healed of throbbing headaches resulting from the pressures of a neighborhood gang who shot out my office and car windows while I was in the process of closing an unneeded neighborhood school. Upon studying the scripture passage, “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward” (Isaiah 58:8), along with other Bible verses, the headaches of several weeks ended abruptly. The idea that there was a divine presence, which “had my back” so to speak, dissolved the fear and the pain subsided.

Whether it’s financial incentives at work or alternative therapies like meditation and prayer, people are finding ways to meet their health needs in a creative way, no longer feeling trapped by conventional options. Just like Wag Dodge did in 1949.


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About Don Ingwerson

Previously in the education sector as Superintendent of Schools, Don Ingwerson now serves as the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in Southern California and corrects misconceptions about Christian Science. Don is a frequent blogger about health and spirituality.
  • Philip Smith

    Motive for health care seems all-important. Health care should not be a business with investors and profit/loss issues, not should it be rationed by insurance companies who in effect place bets on the health and demise of individuals. That’s a casino approach to public health. So, if not a business and not a casino, what other models do we have?

  • Don Ingwerson

    Thanks for sharing your insights on this subject.

  • Igor

    “Meeting the needs of the public” will be a radical change since NOW only the needs of investors are considered important.

    There is a vast reservoir of money available for 100% universal healthcare: the royalties from all the marvelous medical techniques and drugs invented and researched by taxpayer-funded schools with tax-payer funded researchers in tax-payer funded university laboratories, protected by tax-payer funded courts and police.

    We have to capture those funds for use by our students and universities. Right now we just GIVE those rights away free to mercenary medical and drug vendors.

    We would have plenty money to educate every single USA citizen to the limits of their capabilities, even special-needs students, and to finance post-grad education and laboratories that produce the means and methods of healthcare.

    If we focus our attention on the subject we can radically improve USA health statistics by improving peoples eating and exercising rituals through a combination of taxes, prohibition and moral suasion, i.e., advertising good health.

    But everyone is afraid that the Big Bad Capitalists will exact revenge on anyone who crosses them.

    The bigger they come the harder they fall.

  • Don Ingwerson

    Thanks for expressing your thoughts about this very important subject. Igor with reference to your comments, it seems that we’re going to get changes but I think we’re going to need to make sure those changes meet the needs of the public.

  • Igor

    In the USA we don’t have a healthcare system, we have an industry that makes money from bad health.

    Until we rid the USA of such pernicious industry we will continue to be victimized in the name of profits.

    The way to do that is by replacing the Health Insurance industry with a government administered single-payer system.

  • friend

    Great article!