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Southlanders: We need more health care services

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
by Maura Possley

In South Holland on Monday night, Southlanders debated what political heavyweights on Capitol Hill have wrangled over for weeks - access to quality health care for all.

The public hearing at South Suburban College was part of a tour by Cook County health care officials to get input on how the county's health care system should operate in the years ahead.

What services are lacking? What does the system do well?

Mother-to-be Kristen Whiteside, of Olympia Fields, can't find the kind of obstetric care she wants for the upcoming birth of her daughter. Seven months pregnant and covered by Medicaid, she wants the personal care that many mothers expect.

"They don't know anything about you; they don't have any records of you," she said of her physicians. "You want your doctor to know what's going on with you. I don't feel any compassion."

Dr. Simon Piller, of the Robbins Health Center of Cook County, said he's fighting an uphill battle to provide primary care for an ever-increasing number of uninsured patients.

"We need to provide the proper staffing to take care of what's coming at us," he told county officials. "We do feel we make a difference but under very difficult circumstances."

A bedside nurse at Oak Forest Hospital, Brenda Langford said the Southland needs more clinics to provide basic care for uninsured patients who are now going to emergency rooms for such care. She also bemoaned the decision this spring to move inpatient surgeries from Oak Forest to Stroger Hospital on Chicago's West Side.

"They don't have the means or the transportation to get to Stroger Hospital," Langford said of Oak Forest Hospital patients.

Monday's night's hearing was the first of six throughout the county, aimed at helping to create a strategic plan for the county's health and hospitals system board - a nine-member panel created last year to depoliticize the operation of Cook County's massive, cash-strapped health care system.

County hospitals serve as a last resort for the poor and uninsured population, but the system has struggled with budget cuts in recent years. It represents the largest portion of the annual county budget - this year, $882 million.

"The purpose of (Monday's meeting) was really to listen more than anything to you," said William Foley, the system's chief executive officer, told the audience. "We don't have all the answers."

Maura Possley can be reached at or at (708) 633-5993.

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