Joel Ramirez was paralyzed from the waist down in 2009 when a 900-pound crate fell on him at a warehouse. In June 2014, following the passage of a new workers’ comp law in California, the home health aide he relied on was taken away. Because Ramirez can’t sense his bodily functions, a nurse comes for two hours in the morning to help him with bowel care. A request from his doctor for additional care related to that treatment was used by the workers’ comp insurer to reassess the entirety of his home health plan. After his home health aide was taken away, the indignities for Ramirez began almost immediately. He has, at times, been left sitting in his own urine and feces for hours, waiting for his wife or children to come home from work, school, or a trip to the pharmacy. In response to an order by the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, the insurer reinstated Ramirez’s home health aide in late October.
Ramirez said he now feels vulnerable, knowing how easily his critical support could be taken away.
Lying awake at night, he wonders what will happen when he gets older. “Those moments, they make you think it’s better to die before that happens,” he said. “I don’t want to live like that.”
Photographs by Patrick T. Fallon for ProPublica, text by Michael Grabell