Linda Farley

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Linda Farley


Linda Farley , a Wisconsin physician and activist died in 2009, age 80. She was married to Dr. Gene Farley.

Health activist

Married for 49 years, the Farleys cared for the uninsured in inner cities and rural areas, worked on a Navajo reservation, trained nurses in Jamaica and agitated from both within and outside the system. If it were up to them, Americans would have a government-funded program that would cover everyone, save vast sums of money, and help businesses thrive.

“Bush’s approach is, ‘Let’s do it with tax subsidies that will enrich the already existing big businesses, and with charity,’” says Linda Farley, Wisconsin coordinator for Physicians for a National Health Program. “Tommy Thompson said recently, ‘Everybody gets health care in the U.S.; they can go to the emergency room.’

“Well, a lot of emergency rooms are so full that if an ambulance calls and says, ‘I’m bringing someone in,’ it’s told to go someplace else. Or people are sent to charity hospitals when they are in serious conditions, and charity hospitals are being very deliberately underfunded.” Some have closed, and many others are struggling.

In the 1950s, the Farleys worked in Denver’s inner city, where neonatal mortality approached Third World levels. They returned to Denver many years later, after the Neighborhood Health Center Network had been established and health outcomes of the poor matched those in the suburbs.[1]

Living and learning

The Farleys lived on 40-some acres in the town of Verona, in a beautiful house built by Gene and the couple’s four sons.

Gene is from Pennsylvania, Linda from New York. She wanted to be a doctor since she was 12. She worked for Eastman Kodak and at a state hospital as a nurse’s aide to pay for her schooling. Gene also worked as an attendant in state hospitals in Pennsylvania and New York after serving in the Navy’s Hospital Corps.

“Linda was a year behind me in med school at the University of Rochester, New York,” recounts Gene. “I knew about her before I met her. She was always going out with someone, and it took a couple years before I got the nerve to say ‘Hey!’”

They married, had their first son, Jonathan, and worked in Denver. Then, in 1956, the Farleys were offered a job as field officers on the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona. They moved to the reservation, living in an 8-by-28-foot trailer. They spent two years there, studying tuberculosis and providing general medical care for a mostly Navajo community spread over 800 square miles.

The Farleys’ philosophy and attitudes toward medicine were transformed during that time. The Navajo believe health depends on living in harmony with the environment, and they don’t separate mental and physical health. “Their medicine men explained some of their ways to us and we helped them understand what we tried to do, and we worked very close together,” says Linda. “We learned a lot about community and cross-cultural medicine.” The Farleys’ second son, Tillman, was born on the reservation.

In 1959, the Farleys had a third son, Shedden, and began a practice in Trumansburg, a mostly Republican town of about 1,500 people north of Ithaca, N.Y. They were active in the civil rights movement and taught sex education through the American Legion and Episcopal Church.

“In my practice,” says Gene, “I had the Republican Party chairman, the Democratic Party chairman, the ex-Communist Party chairman, two or three Lincoln Brigade members and John Birchers. Everybody knew our politics, and I knew the politics of my patients. They couldn’t dismiss us as ‘pinkies.’ When you are part of a small community and they know you, it can be very opening.”

In Trumansburg, the Farleys had a fourth son, Joshua, and served as host family for a Ugandan couple who married and had a baby boy, Patrick. Later, when they returned to Africa, the couple asked the Farleys to take Patrick in. Uganda was then under the control of despot Idi Amin, and the couple belonged to a dissident tribe. “We hesitated, for many reasons,” says Gene, “but we only had eight hours to decide.” They agreed, and their family grew yet again. (Patrick is now back in Uganda.)

After seven years of being on call every night and every other weekend, the Farleys decided, says Linda, that “either we were going to die or we had to go.” Gene got a Master’s of Public Health and Linda worked at Johns Hopkins pediatric clinic. In 1967, they moved to Rochester, where Gene pioneered one of the earliest programs in family medicine and Linda took a part-time residency in psychiatry and worked in a neighborhood health center that served mostly people of color. They stayed there for 11 years.

Then came a year in Jamaica, where Linda trained nurse practitioners. The only microscope was the one the Farleys brought with them, and the pharmacies were so strapped that aspirin was dispensed just 10 at a time. Here, as before, they toiled to save patients’ health and lives.

Madison

In 1982, the UW-Madison Medical School invited Gene to chair its department of family medicine, and the Farleys moved again. Linda worked for 10 years at a clinic in Belleville, again seeing many patients who didn’t have insurance. During this time, the Farleys went to Las Vegas to protest the nuclear test site and got arrested. “Somebody did an article on us for the newspaper,” says Gene, “and right after that appeared, someone from Belleville called to say, ‘I want you as my doctor because I like where you stand.’”

Gene, now 77, stepped down as chair of the department of family medicine in 1992 and took a sabbatical at Meharry, a historically black medical school in Nashville, Tenn. He worked there for two years, developing a faculty training program under David Satcher, later named U.S. surgeon general by President Bill Clinton.[2]

Politics

In 1995, Gene Farley was on the verge of making a bid for Congress against Republican Scott Klug. But he bowed out when then-Madison Mayor Paul Soglin entered the race. Farley supported Soglin, who lost, but “was very frustrated because Soglin didn’t go out and speak about the issues.” He was delighted two years later when Tammy Baldwin decided to run: “She’s very strong on health-care issues.” He considers Baldwin a true champion of area families, as opposed to right-wingers “who think anti-choice and anti-gay and death penalty are family values.”

Linda, 75, still volunteers at the Madison Community Health Center and at the Salvation Army clinic, supervising medical students. “I’d volunteer more,” she says, “but I’m so busy working on the universal health-care stuff.”[3]

Health care campaigning

Each year, the Farleys give more than 40 talks about the need for universal care. One of their goals is to recruit other doctors to the cause.

That’s not easy. Physicians for a National Health Program , which advocates for a national single-payer system, has 12,000 members -- out of about 700,000 doctors in the U.S. The Wisconsin chapter, which Linda heads, has 212 doctors, about a quarter from the Madison area. Linda says that one impediment is that many U.S. physicians, especially specialists, have huge earnings and fear they’d make less in a more regulated environment.

The GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature is not likely to upset the apple cart. Mike Prentiss, spokesperson for state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance, has met the Farleys in various health-care-related events. “They’re earnest, nice people,” he says. “We just happen to disagree. The government should have no role in deciding how patients should be treated. That should be left to their doctors.” He adds, “I don’t think doctors make decisions that don’t help the patients because of the bottom line.”

Linda Farley notes that government is already paying the health care of 45% of Americans, including recipients of Medicare and Medicaid, veterans, Native Americans and public employees. “We already have a huge publicly funded health-care system,” she says, “but the government seems to care more about corporate profits than about the well-being of its citizens.”[4]

Physicians for a National Health Program

In 1994 Linda Farley was the Wisconsin/Madison contact for Physicians for a National Health Program[5]

Open Letter to the Colombian People, Press and Government, Aug. 1996

"Stop the Bloodshed in Uraba, Due Process for Jose Antonio Lopez, Nelson Campo and others, and an End to Faceless Justice and Political Repression".

We, the undersigned, are North Americans and others who are deeply disturbed by the human rights situation in Colombia.
Massacres, disappearances and torture happen continually in the anguished region of Uraba. We can not understand how paramilitary groups operate so freely in this militarized region where the Colombian army is present in massive numbers, and which does not perform its constitutional function of defending the civilian population. And we can not understand why the regional paramilitary leader is not apprehended and brought to justice for his crimes against humanity.
We call upon all armed parties -- paramilitary units, guerrillas, army, police, urban militias and commandos -- to immediately cease all attacks upon both the civilian population and upon each other. Justice, peace and a fruitful life is never found through murder, torture, kidnapping and intimidation.

Linda Farley signed the letter, from the Colombia Support Network .[6]

References