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Cook County's most vulnerable face crises

Thursday, December 08, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Forrest Claypool
Letter to the Editor

Hurricane Katrina laid bare more than the landscape of New Orleans.

It also exposed to the world the "other" America--those citizens trapped in poverty and dependent on government help in times of crisis.

Unfortunately this problem is not confined to the Gulf region.

In recent weeks, scandals have surfaced at two Cook County facilities serving some of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens: Provident Hospital on Chicago's South Side and the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center, also known as the Audy Home.

It was not hyperbole when the Tribune called the scathing report issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health "a catalog of horrors" ("Provident and its patients," Editorial, Aug. 4): patients left unattended, including a 2-day-old baby who died awaiting care; a security guard who beat up a patient in the waiting room; prescription drug orders filled incorrectly; soiled hospital linens on the floors; dried human fluids splattered on walls; and exposed biohazardous waste containers.

A series of investigative reports by the Tribune's editorial page has unmasked persistent physical abuse of juveniles by staff at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, confirming allegations in a 1999 federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The county is due in federal court Jan. 11 to explain its failure to stop the abuse, which has included incidents so violent that juveniles have lost teeth, suffered broken bones and been subjected to chokeholds resulting in unconsciousness.

Despite those sensational findings, no one is demonstrating outside Provident Hospital on behalf of poor patients.

The Red Cross is not coming to the rescue of at-risk youth who are being robbed of a second chance by poorly trained patronage workers in control of the Juvenile Detention Center.

TV cameras are not camped outside the door of Cook County Board President John Stroger, demanding his response to the failings of the facilities he oversees.

The revelations about the anemic federal response to Katrina resulted in repeated presidential visits and cost Michael Brown his job as Federal Emergency Management Agency director.

In contrast so little political "heat" was generated by the recent revelations about the disasters at Provident and Audy that Stroger was able to stave off an independent management audit of both institutions.

The reality of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath has educated President Bush and the rest of America about the horrors experienced by poor and minority residents of the Gulf region.

Forrest Claypool, Commissioner, Cook County Board of Commissioners, Democratic candidate for Cook County Board president

It shouldn't take a hurricane-style disaster to rally public opinion for reforming Cook County institutions that serve our poorest residents.

Let's create our own firestorm of concern and provide the quality of public service that every county resident deserves--especially those residents who depend on government during their own times of crisis.

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