Deamonte Driver: A Preventable Tragedy

[submitted by Abraham L. Funchess, Jr]

The following is an excerpt from Acountable: Making America As Good As Its Promise, by Tavis Smiley with Stephanie Robinson

~ When Alyce Driver’s story was told in February 2007, she was a hard-working mom who had held various jobs – in a bakery, as a home-health aide, and as a construction worker – but none of them offered health insurance.  She previously had Medicaid coverage for her sons DaShawn and Deamonte, but the family had recently lost its coverage.

Though all states have opted to provide dental benefits to children covered under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), finding a dentist willing to accept these benefits can be a major challenge.  Patients have been known to travel up to three hours and to wait many months in search of services.  And specialty services, such as surgery as opposed to routine cleansings, are even more difficult to find.  In Maryland, where Driver lived, this coverage was offered to her children as an expansion of their Medicaid benefits, but fewer than one in three children in the program received dental care in 2005 because of substantial barriers.

By the fall of 2006, Driver was seeking dental care for both of her sons.  Twelve-year-old Deamonte had a toothache.  But she was more focused on frantically trying to find a dental surgeon willing to help DaShawn, who needed six teeth extracted.  She waited from October 5 to January 16 for a dentist willing to take Medicaid for “emergency” care.  However, by the time Deamonte’s aching tooth got any attention, Driver learned that the toothache had been caused by an abscess, the bacteria from which had spread to his brain.  A few weeks later, he died.

Because Deamonte could not get an $80 extraction, he ended up with a brain infection, a six-week stint in Children’s Hospital, two surgeries resulting in $250,000 worth of unpaid medical bills for taxpayers to bear, and—most regrettably—a death certificate.

News of the twelve-year-old boy’s death shocked many people, including Robyn Fleming, a former staff member of Goodwill of Greater Washington.  She described on the Women’s Foundation blog that Driver had been in a vocational program that Fleming had taught, and that she “strived for more for herself and her family. . . .  Alyce, along with many other women, came to this program as a last hope.  Hope that they will learn something new, hope that they will find support and assistance when they couldn’t get it anywhere else, hope for another chance at life!”

But a twelve-year old is dead because no one could figure out how to fund an $80 visit to a dentist.  Fleming wrote, “I feel as if I failed Ms. Driver.  But in reality we all failed Ms. Driver.”

Who is accountable to Deamonte?

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