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Car crash survivors who died after losing care are memorialized in service at Lansing church

no fault memorial service
Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio
State Representative Julie Rogers and Kim Nolan at memorial service for crash survivors who died after losing care.

A coalition of faith groups held a memorial service in Lansing Tuesday for car crash survivors who died after losing care that was keeping them alive.

Members of the Michigan Interfaith Coalition said the deaths are a consequence of changes to Michigan's auto no-fault insurance law.

The Reverend Timothy Flynn of St. Michael's Episcopal Church began the ceremony, held at the Central United Methodist Church — just a block away from the state capitol building.

“We pray for all of us gathered here, especially for the families and the loved ones of those that have departed this life," he said, as mourners held flickering (flameless) candles. "We pray that our legislators and our governor be blessed with courage and a thirst for justice.”

No fault memorial
Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio
Rev. Robert Jones of Sweet Kingdom Missionary Baptist Church, Detroit, sings Washington Phillips' "What are they doing in heaven today," at memorial for car crash survivors who died after losing their care

Grieving relatives and friends sat in the front row, waiting to speak.

Across the state, more than 1,500 people who suffered catastrophic injuries in car crashes have lost their care, according to an independent study conducted by the Michigan Public Health Institute.

Changes to Michigan's auto no-fault insurance law have slashed insurance company payments to long-term care providers by nearly half. People rely on those providers to stay alive after their crashes, but the cuts are so deep that some are going out of business.

State legislators and the governor were warned that the changes would be devastating and result in massive suffering and deaths.

Now, that's happening.

One by one, relatives, faith leaders, and care providers offered their remembrances.

For Sandra Cain, who died on January 28 after losing her care at home. For Susan Ann Meagher, who died on July 21, 2021.

For Richard Shueneman, whose daughter grieved that he survived a horrific accident, but couldn't survive his loss of care. He died in January.

For Linda, a woman so private her care provider Kim Nolan thought she should preserve her privacy even in death.

And for Jim Bourdage, whose wife Angelina moved him into a nursing home when he lost his home care agency. He died December 21, 2021.

“I had no recourse, or path to take to help him," she said, "because all of those were stripped from us by the no-fault law changes.”

Grieving relatives of survivors at no fault memorial service
Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio
Linda St. Amant, Owen Perlman, and Angelina Bourdage at no fault memorial service

Angelina said within 24 hours of the move to the nursing home, Jim was put on a ventilator. He got sick and never recovered. She struggled to speak through tears, saying he didn't deserve to die "tortured and alone."

“He just gathered wounds, as the months went along," she said. "Then infections from the wounds, cellulitis from the infections. So my family and I had to watch him die a very slow, very painful death. We weren't able to be with him in the end. We will always love him and miss him — and I appreciate you all listening to his story, but I hope his passing can help someone who is able to be helped.”

Tom Constand said there are many people who can still be helped. He's the president of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan. He said the ceremony Tuesday brought home the humanity of the people who are being hurt by the no-fault changes, and it's time for the Governor and the state legislature to pay attention to what’s happening and amend the no-fault law.

“Enough is enough," Constand said. "When you go through a service like this today and hear about the lives that were lost because of the change in their care, and how quickly they slipped off the scale, it's time to do something.”

A bipartisan majority of members of the state House have co-sponsored bills to try to fix the no-fault law. But Republican leaders haven't agreed yet to schedule hearings for those bills.

The Insurance Alliance of Michigan was asked to comment on the memorial service.

They responded with a statement saying the no-fault changes are working to lower insurance costs, and drivers are anticipating $400-per-vehicle checks coming in the mail soon.

Those checks will come from a surplus in the state's catastrophic care fund for accident survivors.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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