Kathryn Bourgoin, MD, began her presentation to the Orono town council for a resolution in support of universal healthcare with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
Kathryn is a family doctor who grew up in Augusta and has been involved with Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) for 20 years (Maine AllCare is the state chapter of PNHP). As a physician, she sees problems with our current healthcare “system” every day. She has also experienced going without health insurance as a young adult.
When she attended a Bangor Maine AllCare chapter meeting this past summer, she was asked if she would pursue a town council resolution in Orono in support of universal healthcare. Having a lighter workload than usual for a window of time, she decided to go for it.
Several other Maine towns have passed similar resolutions this year, including Brunswick, Blue Hill, Penobscot, and Bangor. These resolutions request that the Maine legislature create an equitable healthcare plan that provides every Maine resident with comprehensive health care.
She started by calling the Orono town manager to learn more about how to propose a resolution, and what it would need to look like.
At a town council workshop on Sept. 22, Kathryn presented her remarks and a draft resolution and heard responses from councilors and others in attendance (these meetings are generally open to the public). The council asked questions such as, “Why would it help Orono?’ and ‘Why should the council weigh in on a big issue like this?’ Because more than half of attendees wanted the proposal to advance to full consideration by the council, Kathryn then presented a formal resolution to the council at an October 19 meeting.
When one councilor asked why they should try to tackle such a big problem, which the town could not solve, two out of the seven councilors revealed that they had no health insurance and told their stories. Kathryn notes that this was a powerful moment that seemed to make a difference in the council’s decision-making.
One thing that surprised her was that facts and figures were less compelling than values, and people’s experiences. She’d originally included statistics in the resolution, but they were taken out during the revision process to focus instead on what values the resolution should emphasize.
She notes that the resolution as passed by the town council is better than the draft she started with, and credits the council and the town manager for their help and thoughtful consideration of the resolution.
Kathryn says that resolutions like the ones being passed in Maine towns and cities for universal healthcare are a common way for grassroots organizers to tackle large issues. “You have to start somewhere,” she says. “Then when it reaches the state level, it makes it easier for legislators to vote yes.”
In response to the question of whether a small town should take on such a big issue, Kathryn responded, “How else are higher levels of government going to hear what the people are saying? I know personally that there are many of our legislators who are waiting to hear from their constituents about this issue. It is time for local government to speak up!”