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Provident’s history includes service to community

Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Chicago Defender
by Wendell Huston

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 the community.

“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 budget cuts.

“The tragedy in American medicine today is that health care providers treat people different based on gender, perception and income status,” added Kates.

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.

 


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