Slaps in Faces

"It's a slap in the face to everyone who serves the community," said Garrett Cameron, a paramedic who lives in Great Falls and works for Glacier County Emergency Medical Service. Cameron was complaining about the failure to lower the Overlook Park flag in honor of three Benefis Hospital employees who died in a plane crash a couple weeks ago.

I intend no disrespect to the three Benefis employees; I share a mutual friend with one and have heard nothing but good things.

I am curious, though, how Mr. Cameron and others think we distinguish who merits a flag lowering and who doesn't. Is it by job? All doctors, nurses, and paramedics automatically get the flag lowered? Anybody who "serves the community?" Is that just anyone whose job is community service, or does it include charity work, too?

And what is community service? I'm sure policemen would be included, right? And people who earn their living fighting fires? How about a 25 year dispatcher who supports the firefighters? Is it all government employees? Brant Light and the rest of the County Attorneys are engaged in public service, aren't they?

I came across Mr. Cameron's comments when I was catching up on my reading. And I thought "why?"

Because I lost a good friend recently, Steve Hudspeth. Steve served the community. He served on the Airport Board and the Great Falls Development Authority. He represented the indigent for free or reduced rates. He helped many, many children in problem situations through the guardian ad litem and pro bono programs. He donated money when charities asked.

Steve served the community. But when Steve died, his passing was not the subject of series of news articles and television reports, pleas for donations, and community-wide memorial services. Steve had an article on p.3 of the Montana Section.

And no, they didn't lower the flag for him either.


Anonymous said...

Hear hear.

Is someone really a "hero" because their job requires them to ride in an airplane? Isn't this 2007?

Anonymous said...

You raise a very good point. Why are we being asked to donate money to, attend multiple memorial services for, and recognize as heroes the Benefis’ employees that recently died while performing their chosen paid jobs? Every death is tragic regardless of the employer of the deceased. Which paid professions are more noble or heroic than others? Why does Benefis and the media force upon us the notion that a highly paid Benefis’ employee that dies while performing his or her chosen profession deserves our highest recognition while someone else that dies while performing his or her chosen profession does not? I would like to know the criteria the media uses to make such distinctions. Do they use who the employer is, cause of death, profession, income level, education, skin color, religion or other criteria? In other words, are plane caused deaths more important than car caused deaths, are deaths of professionals more important than deaths of non-professionals, are deaths of employees of government employers or other employers that do not pay taxes more important than deaths of employees of employers that do pay taxes, are deaths of Caucasians more important than deaths of Native Americans? The media must have some criteria because we know that other deaths in this community have not been reported or treated the same as the death of the Benefis’ employees. Is the criteria discriminatory or biased? And, I will not accept the simple answer that deaths while providing services for another are the ones the media provides the highest recognition because many deaths of people that provided services for another have occurred and they were not treated or acknowledged like these recent deaths of Benefis' employees.

Even more difficult to understand is the request for donations on account of the tragic deaths of the Benefis’ employees. There has been no identified need published, yet we are being bombarded with requests from Benefis and the media to donate money to the Benefis foundation because of the deaths. Money does not replace life and we all know that money is not an automatic need for family members upon the death of one family member. Some survivors are financially better off after a death, i.e., life insurance. What will the donations Benefis and the media are requesting be used for? Will the money be used to help prevent future deaths of Benefis' employees? Are tax deductions being taken by donors for a donation to the Benefis foundation? Can a tax deduction be taken by the donor if the foundation pays the donation dollar for dollar to the surviving family? Do donors know whether they can take a tax deduction and what their money will be used for? These employees were not volunteers, nor were they forced to work for Benefis. They were well-paid, competent employees working in their chosen profession and doing what their employer requested them to do. Why are Benefis and the families of these well-paid employees more worthy of our donations than the families of other companies’ employees that died while driving, working on a construction site, or farming? If they are not, why are Benefis and the media encouraging donations in this instance but not in every other instance of death? The local media denies that it is biased and insists that it simply reports the news, so I hope that it will explain this inconsistency?

Finally, why did Benefis send these employees to Bozeman to fly back a patient to Great Falls? Isn’t Billings closer? Is Benefis putting its employees at risk by expanding its service area and cherry-picking good paying patients from service areas outside Great Falls or was it providing charity care to a patient for whom no closer hospital would provide the charity care? If it was charity care and no closer hospital would provide the charity care, why not? Could the deaths have been avoided? I don’t know the answers, but why isn't the media asking Benefis these questions? Benefis should answer these questions while we grieve the deaths that occurred while some dedicated employees were providing service to and at the request of Benefis.

david said...

Wow, anonymous (#2 primarily, but also #1 to some degree) -- quite a detailed (and correct, IMO) rant. I posted about it too, although much less eloquently than you and GeeGuy.

Anonymous said...

I agree that flying the U.S. Flag at half staff is a touchy situation.
But the rules are contained in Title 36 U.S.Code Chapter 10, Sect. 175.

By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law.
In the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff.
The flag shall be flown at half-staff thirty days from the death of the President or a former President; ten days from the day of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives;
from the day of death until interment of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession;
and on the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress.
The flag shall be flown at halfstaff on Peace Officers Memorial Day, unless that day is also Armed Forces Day. As used in this subsection- the term ''half-staff'' means the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff;
the term ''executive or military department'' means any agency listed under sections 101 and 102 of title 5; and
the term ''Member of Congress'' means a Senator, a Representative, a Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico.