While I don't begrudge a business making a fair profit, it is the patient who suffers. Money that could provide affordable insurance and good health care goes to hiring additional administrators at both the insurance company and the doctor's office. They throw paperwork back and forth at each other with a zeal that only government agencies can match.

My primary-care physician is a good doctor and a caring person who has earned my respect. However, at my last visit, I counted three persons doing paperwork and only two nurses. My doctor spent six minutes with me and the cost was $80. Is this the doctor's or the insurers' fault? (Don't even get me started about the lawyers driving up doctors' malpractice insurance or the drug companies making billions.)

At least I have some insurance — a growing number of my friends are having to do without. This is a growing national trend that needs to be reversed or we all lose.

David Bradley

Readers may not be aware that the squeeze on mental-health benefits has resulted in a situation where frequently there are no psychiatric beds available in the greater Richmond area for seriously ill patients who need the safety of a hospital during a time of acute illness, when they may be a danger to themselves or others. In the past year I have received an unprecedented number of calls from patients desperate to find help who cannot find a therapist able to accept new patients, but it may take time for problems with access to lead to reform. Sick people often cannot advocate for themselves, so we must do a better job as a community to advocate for one another.

In the meantime, the same industry that brought us ever-vanishing benefits for mental health and other important medical services now entices us to invest thousands of dollars each year in long-term-care insurance, and their advertising even now preys upon our fears of institutionalization to let us know that when we need it, they will give us as little care as possible. I have my own plan. Should I someday need long-term care, I plan to rely on my own resources, the kindness of family and loved ones and even the dreaded government to look after me. Trusting the insurance industry to do so seems gullible at best.

Mary Ellen Olbrisch

Editor's note: The writer, an associate professor of psychiatry and surgery at Virginia Commonwealth University, was a runner up in Style's "I Want to Be on the Cover" contest.

How West Nile Works

I wanted to alert you to some inaccurate information on West Nile virus in your newspaper ["Body Snatcher," News & Features, Aug. 7]. The article states that "when birds die from the virus, they can infect mosquitoes, which then pass it to humans." Birds get the virus from the bite of an infected mosquito and then may die. Mosquitoes that bite an infected bird can spread the virus amongst the bird population by biting other birds.

Some species of birds die from the virus (mostly crows, blue jays and raptors). Some species of birds don't die from the virus but will carry the virus. In order for a human to become infected, a mosquito must bite an infected bird and then bite a human. Even then, most people bitten by an infected mosquito do not become sick. In addition, not all species of mosquitoes like to bite birds and humans, making a human case of West Nile virus a rare occurrence. This is not to say people shouldn't take the necessary precautions.

Although this article was written when Richmond city was still collecting and testing birds, it is no longer collecting and testing birds because it has found enough positive birds to know that the virus is present in Richmond. Citizens are asked to still report dead birds for tracking purposes but to understand that not every bird can be tested.

Trina Lee

Public relations coordinator

Virginia Department of Health

Kemba Wasn't Pardoned

In Don Dale's otherwise fine article on Donahue ["Left Wanting," Arts & Culture, Aug. 7], he made one serious error. Clinton did not pardon Kemba Smith. He saved the pardons for people who stole money, fled the country and contributed really big bucks to campaign funds.

Kemba, who had been caught up in a drug deal by her boyfriend and who didn't have any money, was not pardoned. Clinton merely commuted her sentence, after she had served years in the pen. She's still a felon.

Roy B. Scherer

Critics' Picks? Ugh

As someone who has an aversion to his own culinary efforts and has dined in Western Europe, your "The Best Around: Five Richmond restaurants that glow" [Cover Story, July 17] sends me shuffling to the kitchen for another Fan Lager.

Mamma 'Zu: the all-time insult in "service," and without that how can one "dine" (in the better sense)?

The Zeus Gallery: So you like having a big blackboard placed on your table with menu (carte in France) written in multiple-colored chalk over-explaining chef's efforts, and when your scallops arrive you delve through the multiple spices to detect what you ordered?

Lemaire: so you get what you pay for, and it is what can be termed a "dining experience," but take your own joie with you.

Croker's Spot: I haven't tried it, but the picture guarantees it won't be by this diner. Nor have I tried Limani, but they may suffer my presence yet, despite the picture.

Jimmy Sneed is certainly right about the smoke, and [Croaker's] gets a C+ for trying to make sweet cornbread with strawberry jam(?) pass for "dessert." And what is that dirty-looking drink in a margarita glass, p. 18?

Your photographer is superb! His photos tell us the story.

Eddie MacDonald



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