San Diego hospital closed to accommodate Bush visit; No chemo
Editor's note: This article was held over from last week because of the hurricane.
SAN DIEGO, Aug. 30 -- The Naval Medical Center in San Diego's Balboa Park was shut down to accommodate a visit by President George W. Bush Aug. 30, RAW STORY has learned, forcing patients to cancel chemotherapy treatments and hundreds of scheduled patient visits.
"The pharmacy is closed. The emergency room is closed. Even chemotherapy patients will not be allowed on base," the daughter of one patient told RAW STORY shortly before the President's arrival. "My mother is a patient...She was contacted and told that her appointment had been canceled and would be rescheduled later…All civilian personnel and patients will not be allowed on base."
Hundreds of patient visits were cancelled as a result, she said. Patients and staff at the Naval Medical Center voiced concern over the shut-down of non-critical patient care services for a photo op that never even materialized. None were willing to go on record by name for fear of retaliation, such as loss of jobs or revocation of healthcare privileges.
One hospital volunteer expressed shock and disappointment at the apparent disregard for patient welfare.
"I think it's disgusting. People who are getting chemotherapy or radiation are on a very set schedule. They are not supposed to miss a session or put it off by even a day, because it's based on the life cycle of a cancer cell," the volunteer said, adding that some patients had waited weeks for appointments. "Some had to postpone for quite a while, because the radiation and chemo rooms were full on other days," she added. "They closed everything down just so he [Bush] could have his photo op in the lobby with the corpsmen."
Officially, the President was slated to thank medics who aided tsunami victims in Southeast Asia. Some local news reports indicated that he also planned to visit with wounded soldiers.
But when Bush and his entourage arrived at the medical facility, those plans changed. One local news station reported that the President never left his motorcade, departing for the airport 15 minutes after arriving. The station aired footage of Bush laboring to ascend steps up to Air Force One, aided by his wife, Laura. A newscaster commented on the President's wavering gait and noted that it was unusual for him not to pause to shake hands with well-wishers at the airport. The broadcast led to local speculation that the President may have encountered a medical problem.
KNSD Channel 10 later retracted the story, reporting that Bush in fact entered the medical center and visited briefly with injured patients, but would not allow camera crews to accompany him. A call to the medical center's public relations office was not returned.
"We were providing the pool photography," KNSD TV assignment editor Gonzalo Rojas told RAW STORY. "We were originally told that we were going to be allowed to go in with him, but we were not. No one was. He was only in there a short time."
The President cut short his announced hour-and-a-half visit, departing an estimated 15 minutes after arriving at the medical facility. No reason for the abrupt departure was provided to the media, leading to speculation that the President was returning to Texas or Washington D.C. to address with the hurricane crisis.
Hundreds of protesters lined Park Boulevard outside the hospital entrance.
Earlier that morning, peace activists also gathered outside North Island Naval Air Station, where Bush spoke to an invitation-only group of World War II veterans. Backstage after the appearance, the President strummed a guitar, smiled and laughed, but did not comment on the unfolding catastrophic disaster in New Orleans.
Bush likely heard the distant drumbeats of anti-war protesters outside, though his motorcade entered through a side gate to avoid passing by the crowd.
On Monday night, an estimated 600 to 2,000 peace activists held a candlelight vigil outside the Hotel Del Coronado, the historic luxury resort where the President was staying. Activists lined a nearby beach and sang anti-war songs. A performance of Taps to commemorate fallen U.S. troops was interrupted by shouts and curses from a group of approximately 50 pro-war Bush supporters.
After civilian patients and volunteers were sent home in preparation for the President’s visit, "remaining military personnel were told to show up looking very spiffy, to appear in the auditorium and to remember that they will be on film," one hospital insider told RAW STORY. "In other words, 'If you want a career, and not to be sent to Iraq, cheer like hell.'"
Why no media was allowed inside the hospital to film the President--and why plans for the carefully orchestrated photo op were abandoned at the last moment--remain unknown.
Correction: An element in this story referencing a haircut by President Clinton holding up air traffic was inaccurate, and has been removed. Clinton was criticized after an alleged haircut held up commercial jet traffic; the story turned out to be false.
Originally published on Tuesday September 6, 2005.