The Struggle of Utah’s Working Poor: Medical Maelstrom

Utah's Working Poor

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Many Utahns are living paycheck to paycheck. In fact, many are an accident or an emergency room visit away from total financial ruin. ABC4 News has decided to highlight these stories in a new series called “The Struggle of Utah’s Working Poor.” On Wednesday night, we featured a Salt Lake City family who keeps facing setback after setback, despite working tirelessly to make ends meet.

According to the Healthcare Value Hub, 60 percent of Utahns reported experiencing healthcare affordability burdens with 85 percent worried about healthcare affordability in the future. Oggie and Karen Hewerdine are part of that group.

Their story of medical maelstrom began four years ago when Oggie moved to Utah to be with Karen, all while she was battling homelessness and her son was fighting terminal cancer.

“Her son was in a home care center and with all the medical bills, that’s what led them to be on the streets,” said Linda Savage, a family friend of the Hewerdines.

After Karen’s son passed away, Oggie found a job with the help of friends from their Latter-day Saint ward like Linda and Don Savage. The Hewerdines were finally off the streets.

Determined to set himself up for success, he powered through the difficult days to become the model employee. In more than 12 months of employment, he only missed work once.

“He’s a very persistent man and so he didn’t want to show that he was hurting – his hand, his chest, his arms, his head,” said Don.

But Oggie said it felt like no matter how hard they tried, they kept facing setback after setback.

“Even major companies that hired him with promises that he would be full-time someday, still only kept him at 20 hours, 30 hours, 35 hours…not enough to qualify for healthcare benefits,” said Don.

The weekly hour restriction ensured he would not receive health benefits and at the same time, he made just enough income above the Medicaid limit to not quality. Then, the Hewerdines’ luck took a turn for the worse while they lacked medical coverage – Oggie experienced a stroke at work but refrained from getting medical attention right away.

“Karen tried to take me to the hospital and I said, ‘No. We can’t afford it. We don’t have the money for the hospital,” said Oggie.

When he finally saw a doctor, he found out he had experienced multiple strokes and his body eventually lost mobility.

“I have trouble standing and if I stand without my walking cane or wheelchair, I’ve got no balance. My legs…BANG. I’ll just fall straight over,” he said.

Being the breadwinner for the family, Oggie had to step down and let his wife, Karen take over. She now cares for him 24/7 and takes him to multiple doctor and therapy appointments each week. It’s become the new normal for their family.

“Karen, she’s been a real sweetheart. Not just as my wife, but as a caregiver,” said Oggie.

It wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that the Hewerdines finally got a break and qualified for Medicaid. With the future of Oggie’s health unknown, he and Karen said they’re just taking each day one step at a time.

“Karen and Oggie are fighters. They just can never give up. They will always keep fighting. They have a desire to do what’s right,” said Linda. “What we love most about the Hewerdines is they weren’t asking for a one-way help. After we helped them, they came back a few days later and brought us a gift.”

“We keep each other optimistic. We try to see the funny side of things. There are some things we cannot see the funny side of, but we’ve got to keep a positive attitude,” he said.

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