Turning frustration into art: widow paints murals to push for health care reform

When Regina Holliday’s husband died of kidney cancer, he left her with these words: “Go after them.” Holliday said those three words were a call from her late husband to let people know about their family’s personal struggle with the health care system.

Fred Holliday was an adjunct professor and alum of American University in Washington. He taught in the Performing Arts and Literature departments. Holliday said her husband was hospitalized at five different facilities before dying in June 2009. He was 39 years old.

The widow and mother of two small children believes her family’s difficulty with accessing medical records and the inability to transfer medical records between facilities are two reasons Fred died sooner than he had to.

“After about five weeks at the hospital, I was frantic that we weren’t getting any information and any treatment,”  Holliday said. “That’s when I went down to the basement and said, 'I would like to get a copy of my husband’s medical records.' They said, 'That would be 73 cents per page and a 21-day wait.'” 

Holliday also said that the inability to transfer medical records between facilities made treating her husband’s cancer even more difficult.  

Every time her husband was moved to a different facility meant re-starting the medical paperwork all over again.

"None of that data is transferring," she said. "It’s like a two-page summary from the hospital. They re-type all of that into a computer … again and again. And during that process, there are mistakes because things get left out."

Holliday has turned her frustration with the health care system into art by painting a series of murals to share her experience.

“Each mural is about a different aspect of health care reform that I am trying to say, 'We need to work on this,'” Holliday said. 

Holliday is painting her second mural in the parking lot of a CVS  in Tenleytown. The owner of an adjacent gas station allowed Holliday to use the back wall of his building.  

On a typical day, Holliday said she gets 20 to 30 people who approach her and want to understand what the mural is about.

“It’s the way that I thought would be the fastest to get the word out to the largest group of people about how desperately we need health care reform,” she said. 

Her late husband got to see the sketch of the mural before he died.

Holliday is self-funded, but does receive some donations from time to time. The cost of painting her latest mural is about $400 and took her about eight weeks to complete.

The mural is called “73 cents” and focuses on access to medical records. In this audio slideshow, Holliday goes into further detail about the inspiration for her mural, the meaning behind its name, and the different messages she is hoping to convey through her painted images.

Click here to read Regina Holliday’s blog where she talks about her health care murals.

Fred Holliday’s colleagues at American University share some memories. Click here to read.




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