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Henderson was wrong. With help from Louisiana State University's Healthcare Network and the Daughters of Charity, the New Orleans Musicians Clinic has been treating area musicians since 1998. For $20 and a Gaslights CD (their latest at the time, Midwest Hotel), Henderson got a doctor's diagnosis: hernia. She was told to wrap an Ace bandage around her middle until she could get home and get surgery.
After three months of corseting up her gut, Henderson finally underwent surgery at Truman Medical Center in Kansas City. Unable to pay, she swallowed her pride and declared herself indigent.
"It's really kind of hard to go in there and be like, 'This is how much money I make,'" Henderson says. "We were on the road all the time and weren't making any money."
The landscape is littered with failed organizations that have tried to help uninsured musicians.
A Web site for a Southern Louisiana organization that promises to help local music makers get affordable care lists a telephone number — a rueful voice-mail greeting says the organization is no longer functional. "Rest assured, we are still working diligently to keep the music alive," the greeting says before directing callers to the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic.
Or take Sweet Relief, an organization established by singer-songwriter Victoria Williams in 1994 after her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. "Sweet Relief has helped preserve our most profound art by becoming music's most compassionate and generous charity," reads the group's Web site. The site lists pretty much every major pop recording artist of the past 30 or so years among its "supporters." Beyond that list, it provides nothing except a generic e-mail contact. The Pitch sent a note, but no one wrote back.
Carolyn Schwarz, executive director of the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, says her group and the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic are the only two city-based nonprofits in the country that render health-care services exclusively to musicians. Schwarz says she frequently gets calls from people in other cities who want to know how to run an organization like the one she oversees.
In 2001, the city of Austin commissioned a study that concluded the town's music industry generates $616 million in economic activity. Music created $11 million in tax revenue and 11,200 jobs. Citing those numbers, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians was able to convince local hospitals in 2005 to donate services to the city's musicians. In particular, three service providers — the nonprofit hospital systems of Seton and St. David's plus the SIMS Foundation — signed on to provide medical, dental and mental health care, respectively.
"You talk to musicians, and they know they need to take good care of themselves," Schwarz says. "They'll say, 'I know I can't get sick because one, I can't get sick days in my profession, and two, I'm on the road all the time, and it's hard to eat healthy.' I think a lot of them have done a lot of their own prevention just out of fear because they knew that before something like HAAM existed, they had nowhere to go if they did get sick and couldn't afford it."
In three years of operation, HAAM has served about 1,200 musicians in need of care. It has the capacity to help 1,000 musicians annually.
In Kansas City, no one has done a study to determine how much the local music industry contributes to the economy. We can't measure tourism dollars generated by a South By Southwest or Austin City Limits festival. Nor do we have anything on the scale of New Orleans' yearly Jazz & Heritage Festival.