When I was 19, my father — a 220-pound San Joaquin Valley farmworker who worked 16 hours a day — died because he couldn't get much-needed medical care.
He simply couldn't afford it on his salary of $2.20 an hour, which was already stretched thin to support our family. Despite a lifetime of backbreaking work, he wasn't able to pay for the health care he desperately needed.
My father's death was devastating. It taught me a very powerful lesson: Even the toughest and hardest-working among us may find themselves in circumstances where they need a helping hand.
Unfortunately, stories like my father's are still all too common. People are dying or living with debilitating illness because they can't pay for medical care. That's why the Medically Indigent Service Program (MISP) — Fresno County's health care safety net — is so important. It gives Fresnans a way to access health care they couldn't otherwise afford so that they can work and take care of their families.
Anyone can fall on hard times. That's why we need a strong health care safety net. Every day we hear of men and women losing their jobs, their homes and their health care.
This is the reality for many Fresnans who are experiencing tough times.
Included in this vulnerable group of Fresnans are residents who do not speak English but have worked just as hard as my father so that we can all have food on our tables. These are folks like the ones who worked in the same fields with my father. I saw them also turned away when I accompanied my father to the hospital.
When we make sure that everyone has access to care, fewer people are sick, more people are working and our community is better off for it.
But now, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors is considering cutting the health-care safety net. Thousands of our neighbors and colleagues will lose access to basic health care. Some may even die because of it.
The size of somebody's pocketbook shouldn't determine whether people get medical treatment or not and, in some cases, whether they live or die. The supervisors say they have to cut health care access because they don't believe the county has the money, but the simple math says otherwise.
The truth is, the county will get reimbursed by the state for indigent care costs based on a newly adopted state funding formula. There is simply no compelling financial reason to make these cuts at this time. If Fresno County does drop the program, it will risk losing state reimbursements for its local safety net.
Eliminating this health care access to our most vulnerable will mean that more people will use expensive emergency rooms to find care. If the county moves ahead with its plan, we can expect longer ER wait times, compromised emergency care for those who truly need it and higher overall costs. This is not a healthy way to save money.
No other county in California is taking such an extreme action to cut its health-care safety net. Why? Because a decision to cut health care is a serious one that must be financially justified and balanced with the needs of the community.
If the Board of Supervisors chooses to get rid of MISP, it's not just the people who depend on it who will lose out. Our entire county will suffer.
As someone who has served in public office, I understand the difficulty of making decisions. I am confident that the Board of Supervisors will do what's right and choose to preserve the health care safety net.
The health and well-being of thousands of Fresno County residents depend on it.
Alan Autry is a former mayor of Fresno.