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Physical therapist helps patients cast votes

Relatively speaking, William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan might not have anything on Rebekah Aranda.

By the end of last week, more than 17 million citizens had already cast ballots for the 2020 presidential election. That’s with two weeks still to go.

Pundits are predicting as many as 150 million votes by the time the confetti clears.

If they’re right, that means the highest voter turnout since 1908, when the aforementioned Taft and Bryan went at it for the big desk in the Oval Office.

The aforementioned Aranda, meanwhile, will be thinking about a more humble offering.

Only in scale, though.

She’ll be thinking about a handful of patients on 6 East at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, where she works as a physical therapist.

Her floor is where the long-term, I.V. infusion unit is located.

Aranda doesn’t treat patients with the coronavirus, but the ones she sees are dealing with bacteria just as pesky.

They’re the ones with serious infections requiring heavy antibiotic treatments.

Six weeks in, Aranda said, of their stays. Some of them are in as long as 12 weeks, depending upon the severity of their condition.

And several of those 6 East denizens, Aranda reports, will be hospitalized well past Nov. 3.

One can’t go to the polls —  if one is tethered to an I.V. pole.

Which started Aranda to thinking.

 Getting out the vote …  in the hospital 

Aranda grew up in Texas, and started becoming aware of politics, especially the rough-and-tumble kind practiced in her home state, after the 2000 election.

Now, the West Virginia transplant is married with three children. When her kids are old enough to vote, she said, they surely will.

But what if you’re in the hospital?

Would one be skirting any election or campaign statutes by offering nonpartisan materials and direction to patients on how to vote electronically or by mail?

And what about full-on voter registration, even?

The therapist approached the floor unit nurse, who wasn’t sure.

“You could run it by Albert,” the supervisor said.

As in Albert Wright Jr., the president and CEO of the WVU Health System, which includes its flagship medical facility, J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital.

“I totally understand that the hospital itself should not be political or partisan,” read Aranda’s email of democracy.

“But many of our patients may not have considered how their hospitalization will affect their ability to participate in our democracy, and would benefit from having access to this nonpartisan information.”

Wright gave it his vote. It’s not an uncommon practice, especially in pandemic days.

Democracy in the waiting room 

A number of hospitals across the U.S. started launching voter registration drives over the summer, when COVID-19 was especially roiling, and to coincide with the August observance of Civic Health Month, a national initiative to get out the vote.

Way before that, in 2008, nearly 20,000 low-income and middle-income citizens were registered to vote in a drive launched by the National Association of Community Health Centers, a watchdog group founded in 1971 for the benefit of those receiving care in nursing facilities.

Meanwhile, the ballot juggernaut rolls on in West Virginia, Secretary of State Mac Warner said.

A total of 120,770 absentee ballots were requested this election cycle, he said.

That goes with the 65,801 Mountain State voters who have already cast ballots, West Virginia’s chief elections officer said.

Never mind November, he said.

“This election is very much on,” Warner said.

‘Everyone has a voice’ 

While Warner prefers people vote in person, there are still plenty of opportunities for alternatives, such as your county clerk’s office or by visiting, the site maintained by his office.

He’s seen voter suppression and disenfranchisement up close.

Warner monitored elections in Afghanistan and other trouble spots on the globe through his former work with the U.S. State Department.

That’s why appreciates Aranda’s effort at Ruby, he said.

Aranda, in turn, just appreciated being able to help.

She would canvass patients at the end of her shift — “I felt like I should probably be doing this off the clock,” she said.

Nonpartisan information. How to apply for an absentee ballot.

And, the best of all: Five patients, registering to vote, for the first time.

“Everyone has a voice,” Aranda said.

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