The doctors, the nurses and the patients were all gone. The administrative staff was all that remained.
The financially beleaguered Cook County budget forced the closing of eight Health Bureau clinics on April 7.
“I came in, and everybody was gone,” said the guard. “It was like walking into a ghost town. Nobody told me, and I’ve used this clinic before.”
Bob Kohl, director of operations for the county’s ambulatory and community health network, says officials put notices announcing the closures in newspapers and sent letters to patients’ homes. But the guard, also a patient at Hayes, received nothing.
The guard is not the only one confused about what’s happening with the Cook County Bureau of Health. As the health bureau continues cutting healthcare workers positions and services across Chicago, patients, caregivers and some Cook County commissioners are worried about how the county’s healthcare system can endure $90 million cuts from this year’s budget.
Seven of the eight clinics were in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods, including Austin and East Garfield on the West Side and Bronzeville and Englewood on the South Side.
Patrick Norman, 25, who lives near Hayes clinic, says he knows many people who rely on the county for health care.
“Everybody doesn’t have the luxury of having a family doctor or great insurance or anything like that,” Norman says.
He doesn’t understand why Hayes closed. “It was real new and newly renovated, and I though it would be up for a while, but I guess not.”
Kohl said officials based the closings on several criteria: potential savings, whether another site was nearby and whether Cook County owned the site.
Some long-time healthcare professionals are having trouble grasping the county’s decision. Mardge Cohen, a physician in Cook County’s Core Center, says there’s no logic in the cuts approved by 13 of Cook County’s 17 commissioners.
“It’s really been extremely destructive, this process,” she said. “You look around Chicago and you can see that there are a lot of services and a lot of stuff for people who have money. And it seems that the [county] should want to provide health care for the poor.”
Instead, Dr. Cohen says, the county is doing the opposite as it closes clinics, reduces the number of patients are at Oak Forest hospital and reduces the number of people who can be screened for various illnesses.
Hospital staff, along with patients and residents, don’t know where they’ll go. As nearly 1,000 health bureau positions are cut, doctors, nurses and other hospital staff still on the county payroll face transfers.
Cohen says, “people are extremely overwhelmed in [this] atmosphere of ‘have you gotten your pink slip yet?’ ”
Some commissioners who voted for the budget now question whether the firing of county workers and the subsequent hiring of private workers to save money makes sense.
Commissioner Forrest Claypool (12th District), who opposed the cuts from the start, told his colleagues at the June 5th Cook County board meeting that if they are unhappy with the budget that passed under President Todd Stroger, it’s not too late to change it.
His comment was spurred by commissioners’ complaints after Dr. Robert Simon, the health bureau’s director, proposed laying off more workers and bring a private health care company in to operate Oak Forest Hospital, saving the county about $1.5 million a year.
Commissioner Joan Murphy (6th District) says the county needs to be more loyal to its workers. She says she’s looking for ways to delay discussion about privatization until next year’s budget; she’s hoping that by then there will be additional money to keep employees.
A Stroger Hospital nurse who worked at the now-closed Hayes clinic says the transferring and firing of healthcare workers jeopardizes patients. She says many patients who have been under the care of the same nurses and doctors for years will suddenly be put in the hands of someone who doesn’t know their medical history as well.
The nurse, who asked not to be identified for fear of losing her job, says many of her colleagues chose to quit rather than have Dr. Simon keep them in limbo about their jobs.
Citywide Local Politics Mind & Body Public South Side West Side
board president todd stroger bronzeville commissioner forest claypool cook county board of commissioners cook county bureau of health east garfield englewood hayes cook county health center stroger hospital