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North Siders seek clinic
County help sorely lacking

Friday, February 17, 2006
News Star
by ANGELA CAPUTO

It seemed like a typical workday when Kathy Sprattling went in early to get ready for business at the popular Rogers Park cafe Ennui, when suddenly her health began to unravel.
Scurrying around to get things in order, she began to feel faint but brushed it off as lack of sleep and a good meal. As time wore on, things began to get sketchier, and the last thing she remembers was falling to the ground, nearly hitting her head on the sink, and blacking out. When she came to a customer was hovering over her, which she considers lucky.
"It was one of the scariest things in my life," she said.
After rushing over to the local Access clinic on Howard Street, waiting hours to see a doctor and having some blood drawn, the long-time Rogers Park resident was sent home with orders to have a bite to eat and rest. She was told everything looked fine.
Then the next day she got an alarming call from the clinic telling her that the initial lab results were off. They detected a big problem and told her to drop everything and get to an emergency room quick.
It turned out that she had severe, unchecked anemia and without care the result could have been deadly.
"I could have had a stroke, a heart attack or kindney failure," the 45-year-old said. "I had no idea how sick I was."
If that weren't bad news enough, "The thing that almost killed me was the bill I got," Sprattling said. A blood transfusion, three iron pills, a late dinner and overnight observation at Saint Francis Hospital came to a grand total of $6,000.
"I just couldn't believe the cost of not dying."
Perhaps through a regular check up her condition could have been detected. But without health insurance, a doctor visit was a luxury that she, like many others, just can't afford.
A group of Far North Side community leaders involved in the Northside POWER organizing initiative, are hoping to change that by bringing a clinic to the neighborhood that they see as severely medically undeserved, particularly by the Cook County government.
"The need is so extreme here," said Rogers Park civic leader James Ginderske. Of the 19,000 people in Rogers Park alone that don't have insurance, many, like Sprattling, don't qualify for Medicaid but can't afford insurance. "Those are the people that we're targeting," he said.
The county runs nearly a dozen clinics in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. But a call by Pioneer Press to the city clinic farthest north in Logan Square revealed that there is a wait list to see a doctor that would take "a couple months," according to a scheduler. That clinic, however, isn't open to people living in a common Rogers Park zip code, she added.
The only option for Far North Siders have in getting county care is taking a trip on the Red Line, then a bus transfer, or a car ride down to Stroger Hospital on the Near West Side.
And that's not a good enough option, said Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-13th. "The question is to figure out how best we can get service," he said.
Ideas on the table include partnering county funding with an existing federally-qualified health clinic provider like the Uptown-based Heartland Alliance or a local hospital. Another option is to set up a county-funded clinic on Suffredin's turf which he tried to fund in part through a $2 million amendment for a local clinic. In the fierce fight over the budget it was shot down, but not for lack of need.
The most recently released figures from the Cook County Health Department paint a clear picture, showing more than 60,000 outpatient visits logged each month to its health care network.
A county health department spokesperson did not return a call for comment on the proposal.
But with a forecast that the political winds could change in the county if Commissioner Forest Claypool, D-12th is able to beat out County Board President John Stroger for the top seat, the proposal could turn into a reality.
Claypool recently released his own agenda calling to decentralize the $900 million spent annually on the county's health system and create more public, private partnerships like Northside POWER is lobbying for.
In Sprattling eyes, it's a move the county can not afford not to make for its taxpayers.
"There are people like me who work everyday...and companies aren't offering (insurance) anymore," she said.
And all she's asking for is a return on her public investment with "access to a clinic that wouldn't cost and arm and a leg. I would just like to have a doctor that I know like I did as a kid."


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