CHICAGO - Stroger Hospital, is the largest public hospital in Cook County and one of the largest in the country. If there is a place where the nation's horrific health care crisis can be seen this is it.
The hospital receives over 10,000 visits each month to its emergency room alone, including from the uninsured who have no place else to go. This is a staggering 330 visits each day.
It is not uncommon for patients to wait for 10 hours to be admitted. One patient recently recounted his experience on the "Ill and Uninsured in Illinois" blog when he ultimately waited 15 hours for treatment.
"So we set out early that December morning. We pulled up at the emergency room before 8:30 a.m. The ER waiting room was already full, he wrote.
"I waited in line, holding on to the admissions desk for dear life - by that point I could barely stand, and there was nowhere to sit - and was ignored until my turn came around. I told the intake nurse I was in intense pain. She gave me a plastic bracelet and told where to wait. And wait. And wait.
"Over 11 hours went by before I saw a doctor. Meanwhile, the room got fuller and fuller and fuller."
There's no end in sight for the crisis. The economic crisis is devastating Chicago and wreaking havoc with the state, county and city budgets. Over 900 positions in the county health care system were eliminated in 2009 due to budget cuts and another 450 will lose their jobs in 2010.
This is happening during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression while the demand for services is greater than ever. Chicago's unemployment is over 10%. According to a Chicago Reporter, unemployment rate in the heart of the African American community on Chicago's South Side is 23.2 percent. This area is second in the nation only to northeast Detroit with a rate of 28.5% unemployment.
A new study released by the Sinai Urban Health Institute underscores this health care crisis especially for the city's African American community where the health disparity between African Americans and whites have lead to an additional 3.200 deaths of African Americans every year.
Sinai researchers showed the health gap is growing. The death rate from all causes for African Americans in 1990 was 36% higher than for whites. By 2005 the gap had grown to 42%.
Seventeen percent of Cook County residents are uninsured, which translates to over 780,000 residents. African Americans make up 32% of the county's uninsured population, Latinos 43% and whites 22%.
The researchers concluded the cause for this growing health gap is racism, segregation and poverty. These conditions cause greater health problems and the availability and quality of health care is less. The study looked at deaths due to infant mortality, heat disease deaths and diabetes and covers the years 1990 to 2005. It confirms trends of countless other studies conducted over the years.
If anything, the health gap has grown due to the deepening economic crisis and its special impact on the African American community combined with cuts in funding for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.
It underscores the urgent need to pass the health care reform presently before Congress. However, many of the reforms may not take effect for several years, and part of the struggle in Congress will be to shorten the implementation time and increase health care funding in the meantime.
Another round of Federal stimulus money is urgently needed to prevent any further collapsing of the public health care system. The 2009 Cook County budget got a boost of $20 million in matching Medicaid funds from the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
A fight is being waged to restore cuts to Stroger, Oak Forest and Provident Hospitals and at outpatient community clinics across the county. It is being led by the Emergency Network to Save Cook County Health Services made up of doctors, nurses, health care providers, AFSCME, SEIU, Citizen Action and many community groups. They are demanding greater funding from local, state, and federal governments and want to ensure health care funding is not squandered by corruption.