Chicago Indymedia :
Chicago Indymedia

LOCAL News :: Elections & Legislation : Protest Activity : Urban Development

Voices and more pics from Monday's Protest Against County Healthcare Cuts

Some largely unedited comments from interviews made with people at the protest and outside of the County Board finance committee hearing.
The stage at the rally
Developing Government Accountability to the People has a simultaneouspress conference giving the city Ds and Fs in housing, police accountability and corruption.
A physicians group openly addresses racism and imperialism in the County Cuts.
Click on image for a larger version

Click on image for a larger version

Some of the more than 100+ signed up to speak in the County Board chambers in front of John Daley's finance committee. Nearly all opposed the cuts.
Inside the chambers.
Over half a dozen events in ten days have been organized by the National Nurses Organizing Committee and other groups opposed to the Cook County healthcare cuts. Over five hundred were in Maywood yesterday, and several hundred more rallied at Markham Court house last week.

Besides healthcare cuts which would eliminate sixteen of the twenty-six County system clinics, many services, and thousands of jobs, the public defenders office is being slased with many losing their jobs as well, including some who have provided services to Indymedia activists in political arrests. The following is unabridged comments from some protest participants on Monday. Please ask me directly if you would like to use their comments.

Brenda, a Registered Nurse (RN) at the Oak Forest Hospital Emergency Room, and leader in the National Nurses Organizing Committee:

“Once the announcement (of the cuts) was made, and once it was stated that sixteen clinics would be closing within the county system… that Thursday evening we saw twenty-two pediatric patients. Unfortunately, at Oak Forest we don’t have any Pediatric services, but we turned no one away. The moment we’ve got to strap an IV on them or there’s a fever we can’t get down, we’ve go to ship them to Stroger (the main Cook County Hospital)… It’s overwhelming. It’s being used as a primary care clinic. They’re going to close our surgery department and same-day surgery [sic] at Oak Forest Hospital. Now, unfortunately we’ve got a contract with ATI Ambulance. When we’ve got a critical patient that needs to be transferred immediately we’re supposed to call for a Code 1. The ambulance is supposed to respond within ten minutes. It’s never happened. Ten minutes can be crucial in a patient’s life."

She says it takes at least half an hour to get between her hospital and Stroger. Nearby, two of Pheonix, Winston and Cottage Grove clinics are supposed to be closed.

“Stroger promised not to raise taxes. That was his platform and he’s still gonna do some dramatic cuts and taxes are gonna be raised in 2008. Remember, I said it first.

"They’re blaming (the cuts) on the federal government cutting $700 million from the budget. (That hurt) and they needed some creative ideas… (T)hey always ask those of us on the frontlines what would we do? But they never listen. So I won’t say that it’s hopeless, but it’s looking very dismal for the patients that are indigent and/or uninsured… (The cuts) are only going to mid-management. There is administrative heaviness and in the last five years that’ve hired at least twelve new nursing supervisors (in crony positions)… It has hurt the morale of the workers. Our (number of) co-workers are really dropping…

"It’s not something just one person can do. We’re getting our patients to come to these hearings. Come and let them know that you need these services. Don’t let them take that right of quality healthcare away from you… How did this one who was making $62k get a promotion to getting $132k? That’s enough to pay for medications for six patients for half a year, so I can’t understand it. There will be people literally dying, dying in the waiting areas, dying on the way to the hospitals, (and) many of (the patients) won’t cal an ambulance now because it’s $600 or $700. So they don’t call an ambulance. So they bring their sick relatives on their last leg and the other people in the waiting area who’ve been there for eight or nine hours are complaining… There is a 50/50 chance (of defeating the cuts) depending on how well the public responds.”
She explains how this then weighs down heavily on triage.

“We have enough talent within the county system to deal with these problems, but (the politicians) don’t look to us.

Reverend Ira Acree of Greater Saint John Bible Church in Austin 1256 N. Waller with 1200 congregants; African-American Christian Relief Network; and the RainbowPush Coalition:

“We have organized people to be here today because we are very frustrated about the $84 million that is going to be cut from healthcare. We are primarily interested in the healthcare cuts because we believe that if this budget is signed, it’s going to be signed with the blood of our people… You’ve got sixteen clinics that are going to be closed in our community and they’re predominantly all in our community. It’s clear who is going to be hurt by those cuts. In Provident Hospital, they’re closing down the OBGYN ward, and now all of these people who are already financially challenged are going to have to come all the way from the South Side and the south suburbs to deliver babies. Where are they gonna get the money from? Stroger Hospital is already overcrowded and there’s already an understaffing issue so when (more jobs) are cut, it’s going to be even worse. This is almost genocide. (The amount of added time patients will need to get to the proper facilities) is enough time to kill people. A matter of seconds can be a matter of death… Because the reality is that in our community we already have the lowest life expectancy, and to take away or to diminish the healthcare services that are available to poor people is a death sentence. Lives are at stake.

“They’re closing some of our clinics, and in the Austin Wellness Center on Chicago Avenure and Cicero they are doing such a major slash in services that they might as well cut it down… They have already reduced the services at Bethany Hospital. So we were depending upon the Cook County clinics to stay open and they’re trying to shut them down. That doesn’t make any sense. That is asinine, insane, insensitive, inhumane, and totally and absolutely ridiculous.

“The idea is that there is a budget shortfall, and our president (Todd Stroger) and our commissioners, instead of providing leadership or being innovative and having vision, they just had the wild butcher strategy to start cutting and chopping. We don’t need people just coming in cutting and chopping. We need people to have some creativity, some innovativeness, to figure out how to fix the budget shortfall without costing lives, because these numbers and these dollars represent the lives of people.

“We fought for (Todd Stroger’s election). We campaigned for him and got out the vote for him… So I concede that we did do our part to get him in, and we feel a sense of betrayal. The budget cuts betray the community… The same people who sweated and got out the vote (are having ) the budget be balanced on their backs. This is a very conservative approach to government. It has no sensitivity to the poor and the indigent, similar to the Bush policies… These draconian cuts are connected to the blood and the life of a community.

“In the congregation I have is about 1200 people… and I asked the question ‘how many of you were either born in a Cook County Hospital, you had children at a Cook County Hospital, or there is someone in your family that depends upon Cook County for your healthcare provider?’ and believe it or not but about eighty percent (80%) raised their hands… If it affects my mother or my grandmother, it affects us. I can’t sit back in my ivory tower, because I have a nice healthcare plan, because if it affects my mother or someone in the back of my congregation, it affects me. This is very similar to Katrina when the Levees broke. The poor people felt the pain the most, but everybody felt the impact.

“I am very optimistic that these cuts will be overturned… Nine votes on that board is all we need, and these commissioners have been put in there by the electorate, and the electorate is speaking out. The same people who put them in will use that same hand to vote them out.”

Elijah, community activist working in favor of BIPA legislation

”Cook County needs to find the proper method of billing so that we can recoup the money we paid these HMOs and insurance companies for these clients. With an inefficient way of collecting fees for services this also causes another system of crash… You can’t cut away at a system that’s already bleeding. That’s like someone being bled to death and you help them by cutting off their head.

“The levees are breaking. Just as the levees were breaking in Louisiana and it was already known that they were improperly supported for that type of natural disaster, the same thing is here in the sense of the healthcare system. The commissioners knew that this system was on the course for failure or breakdown and they stood by and did nothing. They stood by and sank money into technology that was not needed…”

He also spoke about the ridiculousness of cutting 36 public defenders. “You aren’t just going to cut away healthcare, but you’re going to cut away people’s right to a due process in a timely fashion. That also justifies the fact that if you cut that, you are going to end up spending more money to put people in pre-trial detention. (Instead, they should look into) correct billing, going after intergovernmental transfers, going after the Benefits Protection and Improvement Act

“If you’re sick you can’t go to school. If you can’t go to school you can’t ultimately become a contributing member of society, and… there will be a ripple effect.

“I believe (Stroger) is a victim of influencing and inexperience… There is no clear, concise plan to show how these budget cuts will benefit Cook County… These cuts will actually cause the city to collapse, and also cause a domino effect on law enforcement, on education.

“I think that the chances of defeating the cuts are good… and that without this much advocacy and the public being interested in this issue I think it probably would have went by without anyone having said anything and the system would eventually have collapsed… There was a plan that was left in place by the previous president, and Stroger has decided to ignore that and ignore decades of experience in healthcare and in public service and in law enforcement and he has decided to go his own route. Well, we’ve seen what happens with that at the federal level. Bush decided to go to war, and is deciding to increase troop levels against the advisement of the people… Is it just a coincidence that John Daley happens to be the chair of the finance committee? I’m not surprised not to see the Mayor here because this affects him as well. Where are the aldermen? I have seen state representatives here.”

Rishi Rattan, a 2nd year medical student at UIC; volunteer at community clinics on the west side; and volunteer within the county system at a clinic in Stroger Hospital:

“I work at an after hours clinic, so everyone gets paid overtime… It’s an expensive clinic to run but it’s essential and it’s not even working well. There’s no Spanish speaker to answer the phones, so basically the extremely large (Spanish-speaking) population served by Cook County aren’t able to access those resources because no one speaks their language. No one can be hired. Right now, the director is paying out of pocket out of her own salary to make sure these services are continued…

“The clinics that I work at treat patients who are uninsured or underinsured and we aren’t able to do procedures or tests, so we refer them to County. Our patients have already stopped receiving their maintenance medications for things like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure. The way we say it is that once they’re off those meds, they’re coming into the ER feet first… The pharmaceutical program is cut as of today, Monday the 29th. Clinics and patients and providers were given two business days so we weren’t even able to file one year prescriptions or refills for patients. It’s a medical records nightmare, because our hours are short so we don’t have the time to get patients their records so at least if they managed to get to another clinic, though there is no longer going to be a clinic in their community from the County System, they still can’t have records. It’s a logistical nightmare.

“We write the prescriptions and the (patients) go to County to get it filled and they won’t be able to, so not only are they going to be waiting in line already eight hours or a full day, taking off work, maybe they can’t even take off work, maybe they work two jobs. Maybe they can’t afford to get to Stroger Hospital on the far South Side, because (the County) is closing South Side clinics. So if they finally get there and wait eight hours, they find out they can’t get their prescriptions because it’s no longer covered.

“I don’t think that this is just Stroger. I know that (interim chief of health services) Robert Simon is playing a major role in this, and he is a man who has made his feelings about the use of Emergency Rooms by needy patients very clear. He calls them ‘bums’ and says ‘who cares about them if they don’t do anything for themselves?’… and I think that (that attitude) is kind of permeating the whole budget. This is being borne out on the backs of poor and uninsured mostly women and children.

“I think that the relationship with (threatened or enacted cuts in educations and public transit) is economic. I think that what people think about when they think about economics is that they think about money. ‘We have to find things of value.’ And the way that they calculate is that they don’t see education and healthcare as valuable, money-producing endeavors. They think in the short term. No one has long-term thinking here. But the fact is, that a healthy population [sic] that are able to be skilled laborers, that are trained to be skilled laborers, that can work, is one of the most valuable things any community can have. So no, in the short term, healthcare and education aren’t going to be profitable endeavors, but they are definitely smart ones for the health of the community, for the education of the community, and for the workforce. They say healthcare isn’t profitable, education isn’t profitable, but there are other sectors that are profitable, and those profits need to go into health and education. It is pressure from the government at the federal, state and county level to find short-term solutions that were created in long-term problems of disarray, disorganization, cronyism, and lack of insight.

“Before there are taxes, before there are cuts, we need to start following through on our billing. The bureau of health services has millions and millions and millions of dollars that they are just not collecting because they haven’t hire the financial people and the commissioners are just looking the other way, driving the health system into the ground, when we have outstanding bills that are owed to us that we just give away. Whether it’s intergovernmental transfers on the state level, whether it’s private billing, third-party billing, we’re not taking the money that is owed to us. We’re how many weeks into the year and already behind.

“Put people who know how to run health systems in charge. That has not happened in the recent past. There is no sense of public health, of public service in the management of the hospitals. People are overstating the revenues or understating costs in an attempt to buddy up and appear profitable. It’s a corporate style. It’s a business. Healthcare cannot be a business if it is going to be provided by government.”

Speaking of how proper billing will benefit the uninsured patients, he mentions that there is no advocacy to assist them in financial planning and receiving aid they are entitled to, while County-paid collection agencies continue to hound them for funds that they do not have.

“I have always been a resident of (Cook) County and have always had a sense of awe. I know that it is one of the oldest and one of the only types of healthcare that treats anyone that walks in regardless of race, ability to pay, or citizenship, and I think that’s how our healthcare should be.

“…I do not work within the County system, they do not pay me, I do not access healthcare through the County, but this effects me and I’m willing to stand up and fight (the cuts).

“If (the race and gender issues aren’t) implicit, they’re at least de facto. If you look at the babies who are born at Provident Hospital or Stroger Hospital, they are eighty percent African-American or Latino babies and those are the services that are being cut. It is the department of women’s justice services that is going to be cut which is going to affect all women, their children, and their ability to stay safe and healthy."



Account Login

Media Centers


This site made manifest by dadaIMC software