Nashville’s Music Health Alliance has announced the Ben Eyestone Fund meant to provide diagnostic assistance to Tennessee musicians. The fund is named after the Margo Price, Nikki Lane, and The Lonely H’s drummer who passed away last year from cancer that could have been treated if diagnosed earlier. Eyestone passed away at 28 years old on July 27 after a delayed biopsy revealed he had advanced colon cancer.
Ben’s story “was so appalling to us because at every single turn Ben had a roadblock or a barrier to care, at 14 different doctor or clinic visits,” Music Health Alliance Founder and CEO Tatum Hauck Allsep. “We see this often, but we’ve never seen it at every single stop in the healthcare system, from a local free clinic to the big charity hospital to the academic medical center. It is the saddest story we ever heard because his death was completely preventable or at least he could have had care if someone had listened to him in the beginning.”
The fund, a joint effort between Music Health Alliance and local Nashville hospital system Saint Thomas Health, will provide a menu of services for preventative and primary care for musicians within middle Tennessee. Un-insured or under-insured music industry professionals earning an adjusted gross income under 300% above the Federal Poverty Level (roughly $35,000 a year for a single person) can apply if they show an obvious diagnostic need.
“Our mission is to create access where there is none. What Ben needed was a colonoscopy but because he was 28 years-old, no one would agree to give him one,” Allsep said. “He never had a single primary care doctor over seeing his care. These were the two elements that were missing.”
Eyestone, who was a beloved figure in the Nashville music scene, reached out to Music Health Alliance in June of 2017 about his overwhelming medical bills. After inexplicably missing his first appointment, Eyestone’s mother called to set up another meeting on his behalf. Eyestone’s mother never made the meeting and called that day to inform Music Health Alliance to say “Ben died this morning.”
“About a week later, she called and said ‘There may be something you can do to help because this does not make sense to us.’ So we sat down with Ben’s mom and sister and they went through the whole timeline of his story. His parents gave us all of his medical records to make sure that the timeline matched with the facts,” Allsep told Amplify.
Allsep went over Eyestone’s medical records with a local doctor who works with the music industry and she confirmed that Ben’s death was preventable.
“What we know is that fame doesn’t equal fortune. In our industry, everybody knew and loved Ben. But in his medical record, he walked into an ER in severe, writhing pain and the record reads ‘long hair, tattoos, suspected drug use,'” Allsep explained. “They treated him like an opioid addict on three occasions when he was entering the ER. Ben was not an opioid addict and had never been.”
Music Health Alliance works as an intermediary between the music industry and the health care system partially due to this kind of disconnect. The non-profit also works with music industry professionals to navigate the health care system, lower medical bills, and help get the right care for the best price for the community.
“Most of the industry is self-employed or part of a small business. They don’t have an HR department or any help navigating insurance,” Allsep said. “Diagnostics are the hardest things to get when you are uninsured or underinsured. It is not something you get done at a hospital so it is hard for small clinics to do those.”
The Ben Eyestone Fund launched last week with $70,000 from what remained of Ben’s GoFundMe campaign, and support from Yazoo Brewing Company, Elizabeth Cook, and Dierks Bentley. As industry advocates, helping music professionals across the country gain access to affordable healthcare is at the heart of Music Health Alliance’s mission. The launch of the Ben Eyestone Fund furthers that mission by removing barriers to life-saving diagnostics and treatment.
To learn more about the Ben Eyestone Fund and how to contribute, contact Music Health Alliance at (615) 200-6896 or go here.