Caught Within the Healthcare Gap

By Pamela Bond

Victoria Advocate

Dec. 31, 2007

Catch-22 may be a book or a common phrase to many, but for Larry Tamlin, it’s an accurate description of his life right now.

“It’s a brick wall that these people have run into, and they can’t hardly afford to take a guess,” said Tamlin’s neighbor, John R. Brimer. “I was rolling over every stone that I could trying to find some help.”

The story of how Tamlin, a 58-year-old Port Lavaca man hobbling on a temporary knee waiting for replacement surgery, started two years ago. Tamlin, a volunteer firefighter for six years, was fighting a fire when he crushed his knee during an accident. He underwent surgery to implant
an artificial knee.

Then, earlier this year, he developed a staph infection in the joint, and the artificial knee was taken out. A temporary cement spacer, impregnated with antibiotics, was put in. Tamlin said the procedure to implant the spacer was done by Dr. James B. Shook, an orthopedic surgeon, at DeTar Hospital in Victoria. Tamlin said he was told the spacer was good for four to six weeks, which was about two weeks ago.

Shook said in an e-mail that cement spacers typically last three to six months and that joint function may decrease after that. After the joint is free from infection, Shook said, the goal is to replace it completely.

Tamlin is currently waiting to schedule a surgery to implant another artificial knee. He was a carpenter for many years, besides being a volunteer fire fighter, but is unable to work in either capacity because of his knee.

He was declared disabled and collects $1,200 a month to support himself, his wife and the 10-year-old grandson they legally adopted. Tamlin had health insurance through the volunteer firefighting department but does not have any right now.

Medicaid was unable to help him because Tamlin’s assets were worth too much. He already had paid off his house and has a car, so he was turned away even though his only income is through disability pay. He won’t qualify for Medicare until he turns 60, which he said is 18 months from

Help may come from Methodist Hospital in Houston. He is on the charitable list and waiting for his turn to schedule the surgery with a doctor there. Even if Tamlin is on his way to setting a date for the surgery, that won’t necessarily be the end of his problems.

“The main thing that I see is the trap between being disabled and not having enough income and not qualifying for medical help,” Brimer said. “He’s in a trap. It’s unbelievable.”

Democratic state Rep. Juan Garcia, who represents the counties of Aransas, San Patricio, Nueces and Calhoun, expressed a similar

“He’s caught in between the gap of health-care,” Garcia said. “He’s in
no-man’s land. I’m glad I was able to help out, but there’s a lot of
Larrys out there.”

Those who are helping Larry Tamlin

John R. Brimer, neighbor
Larry Tamlin’s neighbor saw his struggle and decided to do something about it.
“Probably three weeks ago I got actively involved because of what I was seeing over there and what he told me,” Brimer said. “They were just so
depressed and I felt like, my cousin’s a state senator, maybe I could throw his name around up there and get some help. Since I lost my son I’ve been pretty depressed and I haven’t gotten involved in other people’s problems much but this. . . . They’ve got a 10-year-old boy over here that they’re raising. They’re good people, they’re good Christian people.” Brimer started calling anyone he thought might be able to help. His search led him to State Rep. Juan Garcia’s office.
Juan Garcia, state representative
After receiving a call from Brimer, Garcia started working with Tamlin on finding an opportunity and funding for the needed surgery.
“It’s a nice story that a neighbor would take the time to help. I commend him for that,” Garcia said. “As a policy-maker, we want health
care to be affordable to the average middle-class citizen.”

Methodist Hospital
Garcia said his office spoke with Dr. James B. Shook, who referred Tamlin to a doctor at Methodist Hospital in Houston. Once they had the name of the doctor, Garcia said, the next step was to get Tamlin on the hospital’s charitable list, which prioritizes potential recipients of free medical treatment based on their income level and the necessity for care. Once Tamlin was put on that list, the hospital would pay for the $30,000 to $40,000 surgery when his turn came. “I think we’ve got it worked out. It’s going to happen,” Garcia said. “The situation has rendered him unable to  walk, so that bumped him up on the list. But there’s a lot of people on that list and limited space so they have to give priority.”

State Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services
Tamlin has an appointment with the department on Jan. 7 to determine if it can offer any assistance.

Magnolia Beach Volunteer Fire Department
The fire department is collecting money for Tamlin. Even if the Methodist Hospital does not charge Tamlin for the surgery, he will have to stay in Houston for a month and cannot afford accommodations.

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