Felicia Burk has lived in Tennessee her whole life. She grew up in Shelbyville, but she now lives in Fayetteville. She is the mother of 7 children and the grandmother of 11. She first saw the devastating effects of not having health insurance when she was 30 years old. Her younger sister, who was 27 at the time, had a stroke. No hospital would admit her because she was uninsured. After a long period of searching, they found a hospital that would admit her, but it was too late. Her sister passed away because she was uninsured.
Ms. Burk’s first 3 children were always healthy. Health insurance was never an issue. However, in 2006, Ms. Burk became a foster mom, and it changed her life forever. Since then, she has adopted 3 children with autism. Heith, Scarlet, and Carr.
When Heith and Scarlet’s birth mother died in a car accident in 2006, they came to live with Ms. Burk, and she adopted them in 2008. She adopted Carr two years later. Ever since then, Ms. Burk has tirelessly and fearlessly fought to ensure that her children have access to the health care services they need to grow and function to their fullest capacity.
It has been a constant struggle to get the care they need. All three children require expensive speech therapy, behavior treatment services and medicines. Health coverage is essential to their success in life.
Scarlet is now 15 years old and loves everything 15 year olds love—shoes, clothes, and pedicures. But, she also loves giving hugs. These hugs mean the world to Felicia and her family because when Scarlet was first adopted she didn’t let anyone touch her at all. Scarlet has been diagnosed with an impulse control disorder and a feeding disorder, in addition to other diagnoses that her brothers have also received—autism, developmental disabilities, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and a sleep disorder. If Felicia hadn’t fought for coverage, Scarlet not only wouldn’t be able to give hugs, but she wouldn’t be able to talk. Scarlet was nonverbal when she came to live with Ms. Burk, but she has made so much progress.
Scarlet’s brother Heith is now an ambitious 19-year-old boy who loves the outdoors and movies. He also really enjoys spending time in the family’s garden, pulling weeds and picking vegetables. In the past 10 years, with lots of help, therapy and persistence, Heith has learned to read. He is currently working towards his goal of having a job and living in his own condo.
The youngest, Carr, is now 13. He loves cars and video games. He is also very affectionate. Carr fights through the same disabilities as his older siblings, but he also has other issues that require further diagnosis and treatment.
Felicia is beginning to feel like her whole life is “dictated by TennCare lawyers”. When one of her sons was younger, TennCare wouldn’t cover one of the prescriptions that his doctor prescribed. Because of this, he had to go into an institution.
Ms. Burke has also seen tragedy due to a lack of coverage outside of her immediate family. Her sister-in-law has an addiction problem and hasn’t been able to get into rehab because insurance won’t cover it. As Felicia has seen with her children, there is a huge lack of access to help for mental health issues.
Felicia has seen the successes and failures of Tennessee’s healthcare system. Tennesseans cannot be successful and productive citizens if they do not have access to both mental and physical health care. It is vital for the survival and success of not only Ms. Burk’s family, or Tennessee, but the whole country.