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Chicago workers, communities fight for health care

Published Mar 26, 2009 8:33 PM

The Illinois budget is in a shambles, both because of the recession and because lawmakers are never willing to tax the rich. Meanwhile, the city government’s priorities are entirely focused on attracting the 2016 Olympic games, which would mean a bonanza for whichever well-connected land speculators have managed to displace the residents from the parts of the South Side that would be developed for the events.

WW photo: Lou Paulsen

As a result, facility closings and cutbacks face the poor and working population exactly when thousands of people are losing their jobs, health insurance, and homes. Workers and communities are fighting back on a local basis. Inevitably, a citywide resistance will develop.

City health services have been cut back since Mayor Richard M. Daley took office in 1991. At one time there were 22 city mental health clinics. Now there are 12—and four of those are scheduled to close on April 7. Each serves about 500 patients and all are in communities of color on the South Side. The remaining clinics are already operating at capacity.

The neighborhood organization South Side Together Organizing for Power has called on the mayor to restore the $1.2 million that was cut from the mental health budget. Activists have spoken up at town hall meetings and picketed at city offices. On March 19, they chanted, “Money for clinics, not the Olympics,” in front of the Department of Public Health office on South State Street.

Meanwhile, the University of Chicago Hospital pulled back from its plans to divert poor and uninsured people from its emergency room after the plan came under attack from medical school faculty and physicians. A letter from 200 residents and fellows protested the plan.

On the Near West Side, the University of Illinois Medical Center is threatening to close the 18th Street health center, which mostly treats immigrant women and children. The activist coalition United in Campaign against Budget Cuts held a speak-out on March 18 to organize against cutbacks and proposed tuition hikes. Workers and medical students called the Women’s Health Center one of the few culturally sensitive and affordable community health settings in the city.

Speakers also criticized cutbacks in enrollment of students of color and budget cuts for support services for Latina/o students. They brought up the fact that the number of maintenance workers per building has been nearly cut in half, to the point where many are suffering from fatigue and back pain.

On March 20, some 50 workers arrived at the UIC Medical Center at 7 a.m. wearing T-shirts reading “Quality for Patients, Not Quantity of Registrations.” This was to protest a near-doubling in the quota for workers processing insurance verifications. Managers told them to change their shirts or go home. University lawyers later conceded that this lockout was illegal, but the hospital still threatened to dock the workers for the time “wasted” by the illegal lockout.