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
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
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.
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