Medical center officials and Obama's presidential campaign staff say the Urban Health Initiative -- along with a three-year-old companion program called the South Side Health Collaborative -- will dramatically improve health care for thousands of South Side residents. They say that, rather than having to wait hours at U. of C.'s emergency room, those patients get seen sooner and at less expense at neighborhood clinics and other hospitals. U. of C. even offers them a ride on a shuttle bus to other centers and sometimes provides the doctors at those facilities.You know I'm not seeing the shunning here. In order to see a doctor, I don't think my first stop should be an emergency room. I'd rather go to a local clinic. Save the emergency for those with life threatening conditions.
"Senator Obama sees community health centers as a vital part of efforts to invest in prevention and reduce costs," said Ben LaBolt, an Obama spokesman.
But the Urban Health Initiative has critics, including South Side residents and medical professionals.
"I've heard complaints from a handful of constituents, but I've also had calls from people in the health care profession complaining," said Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, whose 4th Ward is just north of the hospital. "The medical professionals who have come to me are accusing the university of dumping patients on its neighboring institutions. ... Whether it's being implemented in the way that's in the best interest of the patient, I can't tell you."
Sen. John McCain, Obama's Republican opponent, criticized the Democratic presidential hopeful Friday for having pledged on the campaign trail to expand health care for Americans at the same time his top political strategist "was running a campaign to cut coverage for the poor."
Axelrod, whose firm stopped working on the project in October, responded that he was concerned that presidential politics was distorting the university's efforts to improve health care for poor people and to lower costs.
At the same time, the Urban Health Initiative is improving the university's finances. Fewer poor patients are showing up at the U. of C. emergency room for basic medical treatment and are no longer admitted to the hospital. That frees beds for transplants, cancer care and other more-profitable medical procedures that the university prides itself on.
"The collapse of the health care system was driving more and more people to the emergency room," Axelrod said. "The trend line was and is a disastrous one from the standpoint of maintaining the hospital. Their goal was to find an answer."
Surely there can be savings to avoiding emergency room care as well. Health care hasn't figured in the presidential election although here in the state health care has been a treasured, even overhyped issue, by my governor. It's also an issue in Cook County where the hospital has been scrutinized.
I also know that there is an issue with insurance. That is for the most part insurance is required for treatment. A law was passed in the state where you can still be covered by your parent's health insurance until you're 26. Still I wonder if insurance should be a barrier to entry at any hospital?
If there are problems in the health care field there are surely some reforms to be made.