November 6, 2009

Cook County may cut care at local hospital

The Cook County Hospital Board is developing plans to end inpatient care at Provident Hospital, which provides medical services to South Siders in need. If the plan moves forward, Provident would send its inpatients to local hospitals, like the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC), months after UCMC administrators proposed sending patients to Provident.

Provident, located on the northwest corner of Washington Park, would focus on outpatient and preventative care services if the plan, which faces strong opposition from the community, is approved.

The Board plans for local hospitals, including the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC), to take in Provident’s patients. If those hospitals aren’t able to accommodate the influx, Provident will retain its inpatient care.

Opponents of the plan believe the decision to transfer inpatients to the UCMC is unrealistic, given that the University had plans of its own to send patients to the nearby public hospital this summer. UCMC considered partially staffing and investing $20 million in Provident in June, the largest planned investment in the Urban Health Initiative.

The Initiative hopes to find permanent “medical homes” for South Side residents at community hospitals and clinics, freeing UCMC doctors to focus on more complicated cases.

“Many of the great medical centers around the country have affiliations with public hospitals, and we don’t,’’ Eric Whitaker, UCMC vice president for strategic affiliations, told Crain’s Chicago Business in June. “We see Provident as a key piece in making [the Urban Health Initiative] system a reality.’’

Cook County spokesman Chris Geovanis (AB ‘80, MD ‘84) said the South Side needs inpatient services. “The South Side has an increasing patient load that has nowhere else to go,” she said.

UCMC and Provident have two of the busiest emergency rooms in the South Side, and an attempt to relocate inpatients from Provident to the U of C could be disastrous, Geovanis said.

“The emergency room of Provident is the place where people who can’t get into the U of C, because they’re perpetually on bypass, go to get care,” she said.

Geovanis added that the Hospital Board sought further budget cuts by laying off front-line workers such as nurses and janitorial staff.

The Hospital Board was unavailable for comment, but Geovanis said public backlash has prompted the Board to reconsider its plan to end Provident Hospital’s inpatient care. The final plan will be sent to the Cook County Council for approval.

Provident is part of the Cook County Health and Hospital System (CCHHS), which provides medical services to more than five million residents of Cook County. CCHHS serves all Cook County residents regardless of insurance, economic status, or ability to pay. Its mission is to provide personalized care for all patients, especially those who are unable to receive care elsewhere.

University of Chicago spokesman John Easton said, “I know people are following the discussion closely, but I believe they aren’t going to be making a decision for awhile.”

Easton predicted that no real decisions or changes would be made until at least February of 2010.