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Something there is 

So there I was, naked in the desert, riding a pink bicycle with a unicorn tail through a dust storm. Hopped up on Dum Dums and peyote. In that moment, I was infinite, free, on a quest for answers and truths that stank so strongly of patchouli that I could never wrestle them within the confines of a meager, half-page column. 

There was a man walking toward me—also naked, of course—pulling a wagon with a hammer, nails, and lumber. I asked him where he was going. 

He replied, “Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offence.”

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Honestly, I didn’t have the slightest idea what he was talking about, even after I put on my skinny jeans and returned to civilization. It wasn’t until I received word that the State Public Health Department was trying to shut down De Groot’s Nursing Home that I began to truly understand what the fried-out burner was trying to tell me.

Bear in mind that the information concerning the attempted closure of a 37-year-old facility that cares for terminally ill children is scant. And it’s scant because the Public Health Department tried to rush the closure faster than a Ferguson cop in military gear charging a group of protestors, leaving the media and community to muddle through a confused jumble of he saids/she saids in an attempt to extricate the facts. They gave 86-year-old Sjany de Groot just one week to make numerous expensive changes to her home, many of them requiring building permits the city of San Luis Obispo is unlikely to grant and is incapable of approving in just one week. 

And if she couldn’t accomplish what was clearly set up to be an impossible task? She’d lose the Medi-Cal funding she receives for caring for five children surrendered to her by hospitals who couldn’t care for them. These aren’t children who merely require a little extra TLC to make a full recovery. When they’re surrendered to Sjany’s care, they’re already hanging on by a thread. The understanding is that they will die, and that they will die young. Knowing this, she offers them a home—not a hospital, not a unit, not a ward, but a home—and somehow these kids wind up living years longer than the doctors predicted. They thrive inasmuch as they can. They have a home. 

But if the Public Health Department succeeds in closing the de Groot home, in taking away the facility’s funding, these kids won’t. Nobody’s been able to sufficiently answer the question of where the children will go, but the answer is likely a sterile hospital environment much like the one from which they originally came. 

District 35 Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian intervened, buying the nursing home an additional two months’ time to make the necessary changes. But the demands are still borderline impossible to fulfill, and by several accounts, don’t actually make any sense in a facility like de Groot’s. In fact, according to Sjany, one of the Public Health Department’s complaints is the fact that she’s paying a staff of seven registered nurses between $17 to $20 per hour; the department demanded that she hire a larger staff, paying nurses about $11 an hour. I’ve always thought it wise to pay the bravest and most compassionate of medical professionals a decent wage, but I guess the state knows better. 

So why is a 37-year-old facility lauded by the community being asked to make any changes at all? Nobody’s arguing the children are being neglected or receiving subpar care. 

But according to Katcho, there’s a new inspector at the State Public Health Department. And Javert isn’t playing nice. Which means that even though nothing has changed, there are no new laws regarding the conditions of federally funded health-care facilities, and the de Groot home hasn’t made any substantial changes to the way they do things, the way the laws are being interpreted or upheld has apparently changed. Which suggests an arbitrary, subjective application of justice that puts red tape on a pedestal and the rest of us far below, subject to whims that don’t necessarily coincide with the common good. 

This situation is uncomfortably similar to the county’s unpopular years-long attack on Dan DeVaul’s efforts to shelter the homeless at his ranch. Because the facility wasn’t technically up to code, bureaucrats insisted DeVaul’s tenants were better off sleeping in the creek where they’d be subjected to numerous dangers including law enforcement agents’ efforts to drive them off. Except that Sjany is nowhere near as cantankerous as DeVaul and the victims of this overenthusiastic application of bureaucracy are sick children. 

The naked hippie quoting Robert Frost understands. The community members stepping forward to donate their time and money in a desperate and probably doomed attempt to keep the home open understand. Hell, even this grizzled, insensitive columnist gets it. Laws are like walls. We erect them with good intentions, but they must serve the people, and if they do not—if we find ourselves trapped by rules no longer in our service—then we must tear them down and build anew. Soon. Before five sick children find themselves exiled and committed to a medical institution that could never be mistaken for a home.


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