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Demonstrators push Cook County to boost funding for health care
Cook County urged to restore funding

Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Deborah L. Shelton

About 350 doctors, patients and health-care workers rallied downtown at the Chicago Temple on Monday to press for increased funding for the Cook County Bureau of Health Services.

Chanting and waving placards, they urged county commissioners to restore funding from cuts imposed during last year's budget crunch.

Several physicians told rallygoers that patients face increasingly long waits for appointments and that working conditions for health professionals have worsened recently.

"We believe in the mission to provide effective care, with dignity and respect to all, regardless of the ability to pay," said Dr. Janice Benson, president of the medical staff at the county's Stroger Hospital. "Last year this mission was deeply threatened when the 10 percent budget cut resulted in the closure of clinics and the layoffs of scores of doctors, nurses and other frontline health providers."

Patient visits overall fell by 100,000 in 2007 as a result of clinic and staff cutbacks, Benson said.

"How many people with high blood pressure will have strokes or kidney failure because it's harder to see a doctor?" she asked. "How many diabetic patients will lose a foot because they could not get regular clinic appointments for monitoring their sugars?"

Dr. Clifton Clarke, chairman of the department of internal medicine at the county's Provident Hospital, described how asthma patients, fearful about losing health care, regularly barrage him with questions about whether the hospital will close and if he plans to leave.

Clarke said the quality of those patients' lives is strongly tied to the health care they receive.

"When they get control of their asthma, little-by-little, they get control of their lives," he said.

R&B, soul and gospel singer Otis Clay, who lives in Chicago, told the group he sought care at Stroger Hospital just last month when he learned he had a life-threatening clogged artery. "I couldn't think of any place better to go," Clay told the crowd. "This is something that we really and truly need."

The group later circled the Cook County Building in the cold, holding signs and chanting: "Restore the budget. Now." The building was closed for Presidents' Day.

Sean Howard, a spokesman for the county health bureau, said County Board President Todd Stroger has proposed a budget that calls for a sales tax increase to fund restoration and retention of services, but it has been met with opposition from four commissioners.

"We understand that this is a crisis," Howard said. "The president does not want to see any further cuts imposed on this system."

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