SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions


By Janalee L. Minnich Gage


March 22, 2017
Wednesday PM

My blood pressure is high, even though it's going on 21 years since May 31st 1995... I still get worked up, it still brings tears to my eyes, not for the reasons you might think, nor out of regret or anger, but out of the harsh lesson I witnessed.

Two minutes doesn’t even begin to touch on the stories of those who find themselves in need but that is what I had to work with on Wednesday March 15th at the Legislative information office or (LIO) but my grandmother always said acronyms were for lazy people and used to confuse people, so I try not to use them.

So for those of you who do not have access to the internet, Facebook, and rely on getting your information from the local new papers, local news channel, and public radio… when you lump people on welfare into a box… and label them as lazy, thieves, and a waste of government money… Think carefully, whom you are talking about. Yes sadly aid programs can be abused, sadly a not-insignificant portion of those receiving benefits do exploit assistance programs.

Now, consider the cost in the long run if you cut the cost of housing assistance, homeless shelters, benefits for low income seniors, Pioneer homes, assisted living, substance abuse, mental health treatment, job supports, community health programs, family caregiver, etc.

We can also say the government can cut more... but if you actually look you will see we are down to the bare bones... even here in the city... no matter how you slice it... infrastructure cost money... it isn't ever gonna go down..and our people who work hard every day deserve a round of applause for the amount of work they do with a skeleton crew... but that's another story... lets get back to it...

It amazes me how those who have been less fortunate have been getting attacked.... maybe because people seem to think they have no voice... WELL HERE IS THEIR VOICE!

I wish I could say that I could do things differently,

I wish that we could all have the fore-sight that those who have never had the opportunity to be subject and dependent on programs such as housing assistance, shelters, pioneer homes, assistant living, substance abuse, and mental health treatment. I wish that we could all go through life never having to seek out support, treatment, and assistance to get back on our feet.

I would love to know who these people are, who have magically never been hit with a major life change, and how many of them exist.

21 years ago, as a responsible independent 28 year old single woman, no kids, job, etc., I went in to get what should have been a routine hair appointment, three days before my birthday, and within minutes, I became disabled.

For those of you who do not know my story and were not here, or weren't even born yet, I was in a barber shop getting my hair done, and a 20 ton boulder (Yes they weighed it) came through the back of the building shot me out of the chair, my leg and the chair was crushed. Yes, I am the poster child for the worst hair day ever."

I had extensive skin grafts, a metal rod inserted into my leg bone… my foot was the only thing not damaged, two more inches and my hip and torso would have been crushed, and or I wouldn't be here today... I only had a 1% chance of living...

The fact I can walk on this leg even today is a miracle, but also due to my leg strength from the many years of climbing Ketchikan hills, hiking deer Mountain, playing softball as the catcher, and ballet with Mrs. K, as a kid, I was in good shape…..

No warning, no insurance, no assistance. I didn’t fit into any of the holes on the board….

I was lucky I had family, friends, and a community that went above and beyond and I am forever grateful.

I was in Harborview for a month with a bill of over 2.5 million dollars added up in the first 3 days…. My mother was told by Harborview doctors, I would be there for a year, imagine my bill if I had been there for a whole year….

Lucky for the Government, I am stubborn, healthy, and wanted to go home as soon as possible.

Lucky for the government, I had family, and support systems in my community that could and were willing to help me reach this goal.

THESE support services that made this possible were, Home Health, S.A.I.L., Community Connections, and multiple other Ketchikan agencies, including the funds raised by the community of Ketchikan, so that my mother could take 6 months off from work to care for me.

I went home; I had at home PT physical therapy daily for the first 3 months, and a nurse that came to my home daily to work with me, and the required care so that my skin grafts could heal 100% which is not the normal... I was a freak of nature when it came to that... ask my skin doctor... no one ever healed 100% in the first go around of skin grafts.

Give or take based on my bill just for the month of June 1995 we would have been looking at over 30 million dollars if I had to stay at the hospital the whole year.

And that doesn’t cover the cost of a family member staying at the hospital with me, monitoring the hospital, to make sure I was being cared for properly, and a lawyer to make sure I wasn’t being double charged for things, like slippers for each day I was there, even though I couldn’t wear or use slippers of any kind. (yes this happened, and yes my lawyer caught it among other things).

Two years I was in physical therapy, Two years I was without work,

I applied for disability and was treated like a thief; a lawyer had to fight for me… for two years.

I applied for food stamps and was stared at, at the grocery store when I went. I started going late at night.

6 months after my accident, I had people tell me to stop milking my injury… as if like an ER episode I could get better within an hour.

I was following doctors orders, working as hard as I could to get better, and I wasn’t even allowed by the doctors to put weight on my leg until the 10th month… course no one can ever understand what it is like to be DEGLOVED… basically skinned alive... ya let that sink in... they assume that all I did was break a bone.

When I was told by the doctors and physical therapist I could go back to work I couldn’t wait!

Course now I had to do something different…..

I applied for work here in Ketchikan……

First question…. Why haven’t you worked for 2 years….. I explained….. Next question…. How do we know you will show up to work instead of calling in sick all the time…I explained..... Next question…. Why do you want to work, you have disability and a settlement….REALLY? …. Yes it happened….

My self-esteem was shot….

Thus my first move… to Portland in 1997. I had to move out of Ketchikan just to get a job where I could prove myself and get off disability of $700 a month… and $200 in food stamps. No one can live in Ketchikan on $700 a month, even in 1995.. and for that matter no one can live anywhere on $700 a month….

I was 30 years old, I wanted a job,I wanted my life back and I found myself being rejected.

Based on stigma a person with a disability is a liability…

Another thing you might not know… prior to my accident, and years before the affordable care act or Obama care... I was offered a policy with Blue Cross in April of 1995 that started out at $125.00 a month, I thought hey I can afford that, and my parents always instilled in me the importance of having insurance… I was accepted and my start date for insurance was June 1, 1995… My accident happened on May 31, 1995 …and my leg became preexisting…

Even though after two years of physical therapy and things that I had to do for my disability, and I only had to go to the doctor for my preventive care annually, Blue cross kept raising my monthly rate.

Between 1995 and 1997, Blue Cross raised my monthly payment from $125.00 a month to $554.00…. I had to get a job… and I needed a job that had insurance because I couldn’t afford blue cross anymore… even though I barely used it…


EVEN IF YOU SAVED YOUR WHOLE LIFE and prepared for retirement, did everything right… if you had an accident or was diagnosed with cancer or other disease the bill would wipe you out…. And you would be dependent on the services above…Services that are on the chopping block to help balance the state’s budget… funds that assist those who find themselves in a vulnerable situation and those who are currently in that situation.

Ask yourself what will you do if these services are not available to you or your family when that time comes?

Please understand that Ketchikan is an amazing community that steps up to the plate and constantly backs all their programs however; we can only do so much, I work in substance abuse, and I can tell you that with the programs we have in place the success of those who have been able to get assistance both in substance abuse, and mental health have been huge... I see less and less repeat offenders... Last year alone through our several community programs, we assisted several people living with disabilities, etc in finding safe affordable housing so that they no longer had to live in a violent situation or abusive situation out of desperation or homelessness.

I know that we have to consider cuts but please do not do it on the backs of our most vulnerable who with the support services and assistance could get the help they need so they too may one day find their way to being independent of services like myself and become a voice in their community and help others.

Disabilities, Elders, and those in need, are not THOSE PEOPLE, they are US, You, and Me... they do not discriminate...

To those of you who think that there are too many people abusing aid programs, these are the same people who questioned me when I was applying for a job and wanted to get off these programs. Yet I wasn’t offered an opportunity. Due to stigma, and a belief system I was no longer good enough to have a job. I repeat I had to move out of Ketchikan to get a job, and training in that new area of work, and build a work history in order to come back to my home town.

Another thing we need to look at and I want everyone to really think about this. If we cut all of the support services in Ketchikan, cut all funding to nonprofits etc. …. What do we have left?

How many jobs will be affected? How many people who work in the nonprofit arena will lose their jobs… how many large nonprofit programs that employee your neighbors, friends, and family would vanish… I will take a bet that if this happened, it would have the same effect on our community that shutting down the pulp mill had on Ketchikan in 1997.

I am speaking for myself as a community member and a supporter of the amazing and diverse nonprofit programs that we all take for granted, the very reason that makes Ketchikan a wonderful and great place to live and work, and why I came back.

…. There is no place like home… let’ s keep it that way.

I speak solely on behalf of myself and not on behalf of Ketchikan City Council.


Janalee L. Minnich Gage
Ketchikan, Alaska

Received March 22, 2017 - Published March 22, 2017




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