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Communities fight for county clinics
Stroger's proposal would shut down two health centers

Friday, January 26, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Gregg Sherrard Blesch Staff writer

South suburban communities are scrambling to save Cook County health services targeted to be killed or cut.
Pastors and municipal officials gathered Thursday with Commissioner Deborah Sims (D-Chicago) at the Cottage Grove Health Center in Ford Heights.
Board President Todd Stroger's budget proposal would close the Ford Heights clinic, as well as the Woody Winston Health Center in Phoenix, leaving the center in Robbins as the region's only county clinic.
"I know nobody wants to talk about taxes, but we may as well talk about it," said Sims, one of three commissioners so far to say they would support a property tax increase to protect services.
"We're going to fight, and we're going to fight hard," Sims said.
Archie Steed, a patient who happened to be there when Sims held her news conference, said he didn't know what he would do if the place was gone.
"You go downtown (to Stroger Hospital), and you can't get in there, and then it takes three days to get your medication," said Steed, 73, who lives in Sauk Village and has diabetes and high blood pressure.
"This can't happen," Phoenix village administrator Dorothy Carter said as her eyes welled up. Residents have depended on the Woody Winston clinic since the 1980s, she said.
Ford Heights community development director Veria Ely said her community and residents of surrounding towns likewise depend on the Cottage Grove clinic.
"Because of the devastation and poverty in this community, this is a vital tool that assists the residents," Ely said.
The clinic in Ford Heights, which is often called the poorest suburb in the nation, was established in the 1970s and moved into a new 15,000-square-foot facility in 2000 when Stroger's father, John Stroger, was board president.
John Stroger said in a statement at the time, "Ford Heights may be located at the southern edge of our county, but the medical needs of area residents equal those of underserved neighborhoods in Chicago."
Medical director Dr. Judy Frigo said the clinic has a long wait list, though interim health bureau director Dr. Robert Simon said the 16 ambulatory sites selected for closure are the ones with the fewest patients.
"People who got placed on the list in July are now getting appointments in April," Frigo said.
Sims said she is equally opposed to cuts at Oak Forest Hospital. Stroger's budget proposal would eliminate surgical services and dramatically reduce the number of long-term care beds.
The staff and patients say they have received word that one of two buildings dedicated to long-term care could be emptied, with as few as 50 left on the basement floor of the other.
Annette Carney, the hospital's public affairs director, declined to comment on those numbers, saying she wanted to avoid creating fear among patients.
Some residents, however, say administrators told them last Friday they may have to find somewhere else to go.
"They said unfortunately this is serious -- this is not just a rumor," said Artemio Garza, who is quadriplegic and has lived at the hospital since he was shot 14 years ago.
Horacio Esparza, of the Progress Center for Independent Living, brought Garza and another patient, Sam Orsornio, to the Blue Island City Hall to rally the Latino community against the cuts.
"Are they going to be thrown on the street?" Esparza said. "They need more than a home. They need therapy. They need rehabilitation."
The hospital has 220 long-term care beds for patients with complex, debilitating injuries and diseases. Many have little or no family and no insurance and have lived there for decades.
According to the budget proposal, Oak Forest Hospital would retain its emergency department, acute care and rehabilitative care.
The Chicago Dental Society on Thursday called on the board to reconsider the total elimination of dental services in the county system.
"I don't know where to tell my patients to go," said Dr. Clarissa Couch, who sees patients at the Bridgeview courthouse.
Dental care also has been available at clinics in South Holland and Ford Heights.
The nurses' and public employees' unions are planning a massive showing at the board's budget hearing downtown Monday morning.
Stroger has said the unions have rejected furloughs or delayed raises that could have yielded more than half of the $500 million budget gap.


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