On Monday afternoon, over 100 members of the Yale community formed an unbroken chain down the length of Cedar Street, joining hands in solidarity with medical campuses nationwide opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
The Yale event, part of the “Do No Harm” National Day of Action first created by medical students in New York City, drew students and faculty from professional schools across campus, as well as nurses, residents, attending physicians and staff from Yale New Haven Hospital. The demonstration was organized by the Yale Healthcare Coalition, a group of Yale medical students who helped build #ProtectOurPatients, a national grassroots campaign dedicated to the preservation and improvement of the ACA.
At the start of the event, core YHC members Priscilla Wang MED ’17, Matt Meizlish MED ’20 GRD ’20, Eamon Duffy MED ’18 SOM ’18 and Karri Weisenthal MED ’18 addressed the crowd from the steps of the Sterling Hall of Medicine. The students introduced #ProtectOurPatients and explained the symbolism of the Day of Action. They then asked the Yale medical community to unite and stand up for their patients’ right to health care, encouraging participants to share stories about the ACA’s impact, call congressmen and write op-eds.
“The white coat is a really powerful symbol of [whom] we speak for,” Meizlish told the News. “We have to not just prescribe the right medicine, but also advocate for the right laws. In the midst of a lot of things we want to and need to speak up about, we also need to make sure when it comes to health care, we’re continuing to lead that fight.”
Duffy also emphasized the importance of encouraging institutions to speak out, calling on the Yale School of Medicine and Yale New Haven Hospital to take a public stance on the repeal of the ACA. In an interview with the News, Weisenthal underscored the stake that hospitals have in the future of the ACA, pointing out that outside of the prison system, the emergency room is the only place where all people are legally guaranteed to see a doctor, regardless of ability to pay.
Andrée de Lisser NUR ’79, a professor at the Yale School of Nursing, also addressed the crowd. She said she was “offended, as an American” by the idea of repealing the ACA and spoke briefly about her daughter, who stands to lose her insurance due to a pre-existing health condition.
“It feels really important for me to say that the idea of 20 or 30 million people with no health care is somewhat anonymous, so I brought my daughter’s picture so we can put faces and names to the people who are going to be losing health care,” de Lisser said amid cheers from the crowd.
According to a December report from the Urban Institute, 30 million patients could lose their health care upon the repeal of the ACA. After observing a moment of silence for these patients, the demonstrators at Yale took up a back-and-forth chant of “protect our patients” and “do no harm” down the line. Participants then gathered at the School’s Medical Historical Library, where the YHC held a forum to discuss future steps and concrete actions toward protecting patients.
Weisenthal said that she was excited to see the diverse group of students, faculty and health care practitioners present at the event, noting that many in the crowd were new faces who had not been involved in previous YHC and #ProtectOurPatients events.
“Getting the resident turnout and the attending turnout was really special and different,” Wang said. “As medical students, we mostly interact with residents and attendings in the kind of hierarchal system of hospitals, so seeing them there was a testament to us being united in this issue.”
In conjunction with Yale’s Day of Action, medical schools across the nation also held teach-ins, protests and other demonstrations in support of the ACA, with the biggest demonstration occurring in New York City. The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai initiated this national call to action — known as #DoNoHarm — by reaching out to health professional schools through #ProtectOurPatients and to local schools through the New York City Coalition to Dismantle Racism, according to Kamini Doobay, an Icahn medical student.
The Icahn School of Medicine also canceled classes on Monday and devoted the day to speaker events focused on activism in health care. Last week, Kenneth Davis, president and CEO of the Mount Sinai Health System, also published an op-ed in Forbes encouraging Republicans to consider the harmful consequences of repealing the ACA.
Doobay said that in addition to providing student leaders with suggestions on how to engage their campus communities on this issue, the #DoNoHarm also drafted unified demands to Congress. After participating in local Day of Action events at their respective schools, medical and public health students from across New York City marched to the News Corps. building, home to Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.
According to Doobay, this location was chosen because the majority of medical professionals denounce the repeal of the ACA, despite the message perpetuated by the current administration and mainstream media. At the rally’s peak, about 500 people, including faculty, nurses and social workers, participated in the protests along Sixth Avenue, Doobay added.
“We’re a group of people with white coats marching together,” Doobay said. “So often there’s this dichotomy between science and medicine and social justice, but the chanting was extremely rejuvenating, and together the energy was just uncontainable.”
At 4:30 p.m., the protesters staged a “die-in,” in which demonstrators lay on the ground in silence for 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Doobay said that this action was meant to call attention to the 43,000 people per year that will die once the ACA is repealed, according to a recent Harvard study.