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Long-term patients resist eviction. Oak Forest facility blames tight budget.

Saturday, April 07, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Jo Napolitano

Doctors, patients, nurses and union representatives gathered outside Oak Forest Hospital on Friday to send Cook County leaders a message: Don't kick out your neediest residents.

The hospital's long-term care residents were informed by letter March 31 that they would be ordered to leave starting May 1 "due to budgetary constraints."

About 125 protesters knelt in the street and prayed, stopping traffic for about five minutes outside the hospital entrance on 159th Street near Cicero Avenue.

The residents -- many of whom have lived at the hospital for more than a decade -- said they have no place to go. Patients also said that if they are sent to nursing facilities, they'll be split apart from their "family" and might not have access to the quality of care the hospital provides.

Glenn Wise, a quadriplegic, has lived at Oak Forest since being shot in the head 18 years ago. He called the county's actions "disgraceful" and said the sense of community he feels at the hospital is irreplaceable.

He and other patients regularly travel to neighboring schools to talk to children about avoiding drugs. Sober since his injury, Wise tells students to make better choices than he did.

Don Rashid, a spokesman for the Cook County Bureau of Health Services, said 150 of 220 beds reserved for long-term care services could be eliminated or the program could be cut entirely.

Either option would have to be approved by the state. The county has said it would assist in relocating patients.

Dr. Jody Ashenhurst, who works in hematology and oncology, said the move could be devastating to patients and that the shock alone could cause physical harm.

Ashenhurst said she's always been glad to work for the county because it took care of the poor. "Now we're seeing a long and proud history turned on its head," she said.

Samuel Osornio, 38, who uses a wheelchair, has lived at the hospital since he fell asleep at the wheel 17 years ago.

"We're worried," he said. "Everyone is upset. I want [county officials] to respect us -- people who don't have another place to live."

Michael Cheers, a resident since he suffered a stroke in 1994, believes it's the only facility where he'll get the care he needs.

He said if the county wants to save money it should "cut from the top," not the bottom.

Ralph Scroggins, who has used a wheelchair for seven years, recently began to walk thanks to regular therapy.

"We get excellent care here," he said, adding that if not for the hospital his muscles would be as tight as when he arrived.



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