‘Polar’ opposites: Local lawn display stirs debate over health care

Photo by Chris Stergalas

Photo by Chris Stergalas

Riverview resident Chris Stergalas, a University of Michigan-Dearborn political science major, used his parents’ lawn to create a holiday elf-themed display calling attention to the lack of health care in the United States, and the inadequate coverage of many others. To his surprise, a local news crew showed up within two days. The display has triggered debate on two levels: over health care itself, and the appropriateness of the holiday display and its impression on local children.

Sunday Times Newspapers

RIVERVIEW – When college student Chris Stergalas created a holiday display on his parents’ lawn designed to trigger debate about health care coverage, it occurred to him that local media might eventually notice it.

He was really surprised, though, that it only took two days.

A local reporter and camera crew showed up Wednesday in his yard to capture the display, which shows North Pole elves creating toys, includes a caption with each elf on display.

The messages include, “Lack of necessary care makes our society unproductive,” “A pre-existing condition is no excuse,” and “workplace injury = no toys.” Other items in the display state, “Our infant mortality rate is way too high,” “An uninsured Christmas” and “North Pole Hospital – No pre-existing conditions.”

The display has sparked debate on two levels: over health care itself, and over the appropriateness of the display during the holidays – and how it might confuse and worry children.

Stergalas, a 20-year-old political science major, will graduate in May from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. “I am a political activist and have been since I was 14,” he said, “so although I have never done something quite like this, it is a new avenue to express my opinions and hopefully make some people stop and think.”

Stergalas is president of the Michigan Federation of College Democrats and chairman of the Young Democrats of America College Caucus. He was not aware that any of his neighbors were unhappy about the display until he heard one express their views to a local news crew.

“As far as neighbors go, I initially did not hear anything negative, and the first thing I heard was on the Fox report,” Stergalas said. “Again, my display was created to spark thought and conversation on a hot topic.

“I knew that I was opening myself up for disagreement, but the real issue is health care, and that millions in our country live without it every day.”

A neighbor woman with young children said on the news that it sends a confusing and disturbing message to her young children.

What does Stergalas think?

“My display talks to all age groups about the problem of uninsured people in our country,” he said. “I think the message is appropriate for adults and children alike.

“Parents should not worry that this is an inappropriate topic, as we all should grow up knowing of the injustices that exist in our society so that we can work to overcome them,” Stergalas said. “While the topic is not a pleasant one, it is reality, and people in every town in this country are faced with it, and my depiction of the working-class elves at the North Pole struggling with the same issue is hardly inappropriate.

“We see elves working hard to get toys completed for Christmas, and in the process one has the misfortune of injuring himself, making him unable to complete his tasks. This is something happening every day in this country. Workers are working while sick and injured because they cannot afford the basic care they need.”

Stergalas believes he is one of the lucky ones. “I am fortunate to have health insurance, as does all of my immediate family,” he said. “This issue does not affect me directly as it does others, but I have too many friends and extended family members who are paying hundreds of dollars for a doctor visit, and go without necessary medication.”

James Makowski, a Riverview resident and local litigation attorney with two children, supports Stergalas’s First Amendment rights to express himself, but does not approve of the way he has chosen to do it.

“Children grow up too quickly as it is,” Makowski said. “Using Christmas to make a political statement regarding health care seems to have successfully netted Mr. Stergalas some sought-after publicity, but I feel what he is doing is in poor taste.

“On the broader issue of universal health coverage, the federal government does not exactly have a good track record for efficiently spending money. I will support a national health care plan if and only if Congress agrees to accept the same health care plan.”

Anton Anderssen, a friend of Stergalas and a UM-D professor who holds a law degree, expressed a different point of view.

“I agree with Chris,” Anderssen said. “I believe health care should be provided as a public service, like 911, the fire department, or the police department.

“The elves could be a metaphor for the children killed in factories producing goods for American consumption. I think most Halloween displays are far more shocking.”