Remarks to the Teton County Human Services Council

In 1954, Pearl Buck wrote that “The test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.”

Three decades later, Hubert Humphrey observed that “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

These words ring true to me, for I believe in public health, in preventive medicine, in a community’s obligation to help those who struggle to take care of themselves. And while I may never have the platform of a Pearl Buck, nor the power of a Hubert Humphrey, when I did have the opportunity to turn that sentiment into action, I seized it.

In particular, I served as a publicly elected member of the St. John’s Medical Center board for eight years. During my time on that board, I pushed the hospital to think more broadly about our mission. As I saw it, our job was not simply heal the sick, but to help prevent them from becoming sick in the first place. To focus not just on disease, but on wellness – physical and mental, emotional and spiritual. And not just in Teton County, but throughout the region, this one community of ours spanning two states and at least four counties.

Why did I advocate for this? In part because it saved us money. For example, it was a lot cheaper for us to support the Free Clinic than it was to see those patients in the Emergency Room. Ditto the support we gave to other wellness, public health, and human services efforts in the community. But mostly I advocated for these things because it was the right thing to do for our community; for the people who, in Humphrey’s construction, were in the dawn and twilight and shadows of life.

The basic theme of the five questions you posed to us is “Do we candidates support Human Services?” I do, and I believe my track record backs up that claim. And if anything, I believe even more strongly in our Human Services today than I did when I was first elected to the hospital board 22 years ago. Part of this was the result of sitting in on some of the Systems of Care meetings when they got going, and much of it has been the result of my brother becoming the head of immunizations for the state of California. That job has led us to some long and important discussions about the importance of not just public health, but of taking care of those in need.

Your questions also touch on two other themes. One is the growing pressures on Teton County residents. As I’ve documented in my writing, and as you know through your work, Teton County has the greatest income inequality of any county in America, a gap that is only growing. As that gap grows, it adds to the range, magnitude, and urgency of the pressures on our non-wealthy residents. The people in this room are the tip of the spear in dealing with those pressures and concomitant problems, and you deserve not just our thanks, but our help.

Which leads into the second theme: money. As many of your questions note, government funding for human services is getting increasingly tight. One possible way of addressing that challenge is through philanthropy. Unfortunately, though, the 22 in 21 conference on philanthropy I organized last March only re-enforced a feeling many of us have had for years, if not decades: while Human Services are vital to the health of the community, they are not much of a bright, shiny object for our donor class.

Yes, government needs to fund Human Services. Beyond that, though, I think local government should use its bully pulpit to help advocate for the work you do, and for making sure you have the resources to do it.

To me, this makes government’s role even more important.

In closing, if I am fortunate enough to be elected, my goal is to bring to my role as a Town Councilor the same fundamental beliefs in public health and human services that I brought into my role as a hospital trustee.

Thank you for your time and interest, and a special thanks for the work you do. Not many of us can do what you do, and we are a far better, healthier, and stronger community because of it.