The once Black-owned and managed
Provident Hospital of Cook County has been
providing community service to the poor and
uninsured for over 100 years.
But its future is now in limbo after the Cook
County board recently voted to rollback the
county’s portion of the state sales tax to 1.25
percent from 1.75 percent effective July 1.
By doing so, Cook County Board President
Todd Stroger said the county stands to lose
$200 million a year and has suggested closing
Provident, 500 E. 51st St., and other county
health facilities as a way to make up the difference.
Not everyone agrees with Stroger or William
Foley, chief executive officer for the Cook
County Health and Hospitals System, who last
week said, “it’s highly likely we will have to
close Provident Hospital.”
Doctors, patients and the community are
now speaking out about the important role
Provident plays to Chicagoans, especially
those living on the South Side.
Dr. Clifford Crawford, a general surgeon at
Provident, has worked there since 1980.
“This place used to be the only Chicago hospital
where you could find a Black doctor,”
recalls Crawford. “So the mere thought of it
closing is of great concern to me.”
He worries that if Provident were to close
the poor and uninsured would fall by the wayside
because local hospitals, such as the
University of Chicago, Mercy, Jackson Park,
South Shore and Roseland, would not be able
to handle the infusion of patients that more
than likely would flock there.
“I am not saying these places would not treat
them. I am just saying they would not treat
them like we do, regardless if they cannot pay,”
Crawford told the Defender.
One example Crawford gave was a man who
came to Provident with a headache years ago
after first going to another hospital for treatment.
The other hospital gave him an aspirin
and sent him home. But because the man continued
to have headaches he came to Provident
(through the emergency room). Once there
doctors performed a series of tests, including a
CAT scan, which revealed he had a blood clot
in his head.
“This man would have died had he not came
to us. This is what I mean when I say doctors
at Provident go a step further when examining
patients to make absolutely sure nothing was
missed,” he said. “Usually other hospitals will
refer the poor and uninsured to Provident anyway
for any follow up care.”
Only about three to five percent of the patients
at Provident have insurance, said Dr. Carmen
Hudson-White, a gynecologist at the hospital.
But unlike most for-profit hospitals Provident
is unique when it comes to serving the needs of
“There are very few community-based hospitals,”
asserts Dr. Crystal Cash, chair of Family
Medicine at Provident. “Yes there are a lot of
good hospitals in Chicago but none like
Provident, which caters its treatment to the community.”
She added that Provident has patients who
have not seen a doctor in 10 years or more and
often will not seek medical care until an ongoing
problem gets worse.
In fact, most Provident patients originate from
the emergency room, according to Dr. Aaron
Hamb, chief medical officer for Provident.
“Many patients treat the ER as if it's their primary
care doctor,” Hamb added, who has
worked at Provident since 1993.
In 2008 Provident opened a new and bigger
pharmacy to meet the growing demand for prescription
medications. It fills over a 1,000 prescriptions
a day mostly for free.
And because Provident has a track record for
treating poor and uninsured patients who are
often Black, Dr. Gayle Kates, chair of Pediatrics
at Provident and an employee since 1980, said
Provident is an easy target when it comes to
“The tragedy in American medicine today is
that health care providers treat people different
based on gender, perception and income status,”
If Provident is closed by the county it won’t
be the first time the historic hospital has closed.
Faced with mounting debt in the 1970s the
federal government extended a loan to
Provident, which enabled it to be constructed at
its current location.
However, Provident was unable to repay the
loan and filed bankruptcy in July 1987. The hospital
would close two months later. In 1991
Cook County purchased Provident from the federal
government for $1 and then spent millions
to renovate it. And in August 1993 the hospital
reopened under its new name.
It has been a pillar in the Bronzeville community
since its inception in the 1800s when it was
founded by the late Dr. Daniel Hale Williams.