A Mom's Story (2008)

Mother and daughter

Angie Baleau's 7-year-old daughter was the one who insisted that her mother go to the doctor.

  Charity Care

Let Us Worry About That

When Catastrophe Outpaces Insurance

When Children with Cancer Grow Up

Lifting the Burden of Being a Burden

Something was wrong. Normally full of energy, Baleau no longer danced around the living room, singing songs from her native Jamaica. Lately, she had not even felt well enough to go to her jobs as substitute teacher and convenience store clerk.

Finally, Baleau gave in and went to the emergency room at Emory University Hospital. There, she got a diagnosis that shocked the 27-year-old nonsmoker: lung cancer that had already spread. Her first thought was of her daughter. Her second was that she could not pay for her care.

Let us worry about that, said David Neujahr, the pulmonologist who would oversee her care. Surgery was a blur, as were the first days in the surgical ICU. She remained in the hospital for almost two months. Neujahr stopped by frequently, as did various doctors called hospitalists. The nurses did not seem to realize that she had no money. They were tender and loving and helped her feel less afraid of the tubes attached to various parts of her body and all the chemotherapy.

When she was stable enough to go home, Emory arranged for a wheelchair, bedside commode, and oxygen tanks as well as visits from a home health nurse and physical therapist. 

The bills mounted, more zeros than Baleau had ever seen. Focus on your health, was her clinician's only response when she said she couldn’t pay anything. Nonetheless, she was glad when a social worker helped her fill out the application for Medicaid. If she were approved, based on her inability to work, Medicaid would reimburse Emory for at least some of the costs of care.

And if not? Well, answered social worker Christiana Bolarinwa, then Emory Healthcare would worry about that. She meant that the cost of Baleau's care—roughly $400,000—would be part of the charity care provided by Emory Healthcare to patients with no health insurance.