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Clinic patients are left in limbo
County budget cuts could close facilities

Thursday, January 11, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Josh Noel

In the Woodlawn Health Center waiting room, beside brochures for prescription drug assistance and domestic violence hot lines, a stack of fliers touts what the clinic considers its most urgent public-health issue.

"Fight!!! For Woodlawn," the fliers read, followed by a Cook County commissioner's phone number.
As county officials consider closing an undetermined number of the county's 26 community health clinics, Woodlawn patients and officials say they feel the bull's-eye squarely on their backs. Woodlawn serves about 5,000 patients a year, small enough that it could be told to shut its doors as a result of County Board President Todd Stroger's directive to slash all agency budgets by 17 percent.

Beside the homemade fliers sit a photocopied newspaper article explaining the cuts, on which someone scrawled, "And I voted for Todd! What a waste."

With concrete floors and dated, sometimes torn, vinyl furniture in the eight examination rooms, the facility might not be the coziest, but patients expressed alarm at the prospect of the clinic closing. For uninsured patients, the county clinics provide free health care.

Having no Woodlawn clinic would force many to travel farther, where they would likely stand in longer lines for care and wait longer for appointments.

"I'm pretty sure I'd go to the doctor less if this place closed," Mae Wilson, 81, said as she waited for her ride after a morning appointment. "I depend on my children to take me to and fro, and they depend on being able to take off from work to do that. Their schedule might not always cooperate if I have to go farther."

In the waiting room, where months-old magazines and religious tracts occupy patients, the crush wasn't overwhelming Wednesday. About seven people waited in blue plastic chairs, most of them seniors who use the clinic for their primary care. They come every three months for checkups and to be monitored for conditions such as diabetes and heart problems.

Woodlawn, which has eight doctors on staff, is booked through April, even though there is no telling if it will still be open then, said Robert Hart, 68, who is both a patient and a member of the clinic's advisory board. "Any other clinic you would go to would already be filled up," Hart said. "This place is essential."

Many patients said Wednesday they did not know where they would go for their next appointments if not to Woodlawn Health Center.

"It's very inconvenient," Arthur Hearn, 80, said as he left the clinic. "If someone told me where I could go, I'd still get myself checked."

Also on the chopping block could be Project Brotherhood, a non-profit "black men's clinic" that operates out of the Woodlawn facility. The 8-year-old organization offers medical care and social assistance, such as help with resumes, fatherhood classes and haircuts. Project Brotherhood pays no rent and gets volunteer medical services from the clinic's doctors.

Project Brotherhood would be open to moving to another county clinic, but it's unclear if that is feasible, said co-founder Marcus Murray, 35.

"We're in limbo," Murray said. "The steps we took to make health care accessible to black men might be wiped out."

Even so, staff member Matthew Greene on Wednesday taped up Project Brotherhood's schedule of events for March. "I don't know why we're putting the calendar up," he said. "Who knows if we will be here?"

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