Archive for October, 2014


October 7, 2014 Comments Off on SIGNATURE ON THE BOOK OF LIFE General



The next time you hear someone say, “…nothing I do or say will make a difference,” please think of a former newspaper reporter and columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette named Sally Kalson. Although she recently passed away at age 63 from the complications of ovarian cancer, Sally’s words remain very much a part of life in Western Pennsylvania. She was a feisty and independent thinker who saw through greed and dishonesty and took a consistent stand for social justice. This was very evident in her wonderful obituary, which was a beautiful reflection of the great regard in which Sally was held throughout the region. However, her obituary went beyond praise to honor one of her former columns which embodied a stunningly courageous challenge to a mighty medical and health insurance giant – UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). UPMC was (and is)  engaged in a frightening public standoff with the Highmark medical insurance company.

The entire region, perhaps especially citizens in the city of Pittsburgh, had been upset and menaced by the ongoing contract dispute between UPMC and Highmark. Many major employers in the region offered their employees one form of insurance or the other, but carriers of either card had in-network access to the many hospitals in the highly reputed and long standing UPMC hospital network. As the shocking contract dispute emerged, it became clear that UPMC no longer intended to provide in-network doctors or hospital care to Highmark medical insurance carriers. (Highmark had recently acquired regional hospitals of its own which would compete directly with UPMC hospitals). One of the most frightening aspects of this ongoing dispute was that people with serious illnesses might be separated from life-saving UPMC doctors and UPMC hospital-based treatment protocols if they carried the Highmark card. Other well reputed people in our region had spoken out about what appeared to be an outrageous situation – untold scores of people being placed in harms way by the power-struggle of two medical giants. But it was when I read Sally’s December 2011 column titled “I’ll bargain with God, but not Jeffrey Romoff, for my life” (Romoff is President of UPMC—Sally’s employer offered Highmark insurance) that I had real hope for some human decency in the resolution of the contract dispute. Kalson, who was soon to face her fourth round of chemotherapy at UPMC in eight years, wrote:

“I wonder if UPMC President Jeffrey Romoff would like to come down from his penthouse and inhabit my world for the next few months. Maybe then he’d see the colossal folly of threatening to separate me and millions of others from affordable access to trusted medical providers when we’re already holding on by our fingernails” She continued, “After eight years, I’ve grown accustomed to bargaining with God on the terms of extending my lifespan. But I refuse to bargain with Jeffrey Romoff, who is not God even if he thinks otherwise. The hospitals he runs were not created in six days by his hand from the void of nothingness, and they are not his to use however he likes. They were built over many years with the best of intentions and entrusted to UPMC as community assets, not as leverage for knocking out the competition.”

I think of it as a special honor when an obituary reflects someone’s brave and public struggle for the common good. As Sally’s obituary indicated, since the time of her column “the two health care giants have worked toward resolving the question of access to oncology services for Highmark clients at UPMC facilities.” One of Sally’s legacies, among many, is a greater pathway of access for people with cancer who hold a Highmark insurance card to the doctors and hospitals in Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region that are best able to serve them – and in many cases save their lives.

Sally Kalson used her challenging personal experiences to speak out and take aim at giants. We all have challenging personal experiences through which we can open the eyes of others to justice for the common good. This is how we can write a bold and generous signature on the book of life — and leave something of great value for all those who remain when we are gone.

Here is a link to Sally’s article:

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children