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County health chief says article 'sensationalized' comments

Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Dr. Robert Simon
Letter to the Editor

I would like to take the opportunity to address the March 25 article written by Gregg Sherrard Blesch entitled "Dr Simon says … Send home illegal immigrants."

I agreed to an interview regarding the downsizing of long-term care at Oak Forest Hospital, hoping to help educate the public on the challenges facing the institution and to shed light on some solutions that are currently being considered. Unfortunately, the writer chose to sensationalize the piece, cherry-picking statements from the interview to fit his own biases.

First, I apologize to those who find themselves hurt by my comments. The statements were offered in the context of what I believed to be a discussion about finding solutions to the problems posed by one part of an overwhelming regional healthcare crisis and were not meant to demean or belittle any human being.

It is, however, an incontrovertible fact that many hospitals that provide care to undocumented immigrants who require long-term care do, in fact, engage social service agencies to try to contact those individuals’ family members in their country of origin. Typically, arrangements are made to fly the family to the United States, who then return their loved one to their home.

At a time of well-documented and oft-reported upon fiscal austerity in Cook County government, it is, frankly, unfathomable that Mr. Blesch would craft an article that does little more than play upon the sensitivities of the immigrant community instead of reporting in an honest and forthright manner.

Additionally, it is equally true that some of Oak Forest’s long-term care patients, many of whom have been residents at the facility for more than a decade, may not have alternatives other than those offered by Cook County. These patients cost Cook County residents an average of $800 each per day or more than $290,000 per person, per year – roughly five times more than an average nursing home. Still, in those cases, it is my goal to find a skilled nursing facility to care for those individuals at the county’s expense, as we certainly cannot discharge those patients without first finding them a safe place to live.

The restructuring of our public health care system is not about being uncaring. It is about providing quality healthcare. Given the realities of the day, we must provide that health care with economics in mind. The Cook County Bureau of Health Services desires to provide long-term care. However, while the county has a duty to provide quality healthcare, it also has an obligation to be mindful of all costs.

In either case, solutions are being considered that would keep each and every one of these individuals out of harm’s way, while simultaneously providing for the continued restructuring of Cook County government’s public health care system. At a time when serious decisions are being made about providing reasonable, measured alternatives to public health care delivery, it is unfortunate that there are those who would turn the issue on its ear for the sake of a byline.

Dr. Robert Simon is the interim bureau chief of the Cook County Bureau of Health Services.

Readers who missed the story in the Sunday Southtown, which explained how 20 to 30 profoundly disabled illegal immigrants are being cared for at Oak Forest Hospital, can find the report on

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