09.30.2009 0

Away Goes Trouble Down the Drain

  • On: 10/07/2009 09:30:17
  • In: Corruption
  • By Richard McCarty and Carter Clews

    Several years ago a wealthy, well-respected Chicago hospital realized that it had a problem: Too many poor, black, Medicare and Medicaid patients were “seeping” into the hospital’s emergency room. Since it has been illegal for two decades to just drop indigent patients off at competitors’ hospitals, what could the University of Chicago Medical Center do?

    Enter Michelle Obama.

    To solve this problem, Susan Sher, Vice President for Legal and Government Affairs, hired her friend Michelle Obama in 2002. Mrs. Obama was hired as Executive Director for Community Affairs. Michelle Obama immediately understood the problem. She declared, “The world is seeping in, and our salvation will be the success of our partners” (i.e., alternative, less hoity-toity medical facilities).

    To deal with the “seepage” problem, Mrs. Obama helped create the so-called “South Side Health Collaborative” (later known as the “Urban Health Initiative”). This program aimed to reduce the number of non-paying patients utilizing UCMC’s emergency room. And it did so by instituting a highly selective program that redirects poor patients to other medical facilities with decidedly less advanced technology – not to mention, less prestigious clientele — than UCMC.

    And the Obama seepage-control program is leaving nothing up to chance.

    Upon entrance to the UCMC emergency room, patients are now greeted by a “patient advocate” whose job it is to convince them to seep over to some other, less exclusive medical facility. Free short-bus shuttles are even provided to haul the willing off. To add insult to injury, this program was started with a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services. Which means the working poor are helping to finance their own neglect.

    How well has the seepage system worked. Well, that depends upon whether you are the seepage sweeper or the seepee?

    Last year, the local alderman, Toni Preckwinkle, told the story of a relative whose mother took him to the emergency room at UCMC. Although the patient was vomiting and unable to stand or walk, “they [hospital staff] spent the entire time in the emergency room trying to discourage him from entering and telling her to take him home.”

    In another instance, Dontae Adams was denied admission to the hospital after a pit bull tore off the boy’s lip. After a three hour wait, he received only Tylenol, antibiotics, and a tetanus shot. “They doped my boy up and told us to move on,” his mother said. The two then had to take an hour-long bus ride to another facility that would perform the needed reconstructive surgery.

    The efforts by UCMC to deny treatment to poor patients have been roundly criticized. The local Democrat congressman, Bobby Rush, has called for a congressional investigation of UCMC. Unfortunately, Mr. Rush’s call for action came in a letter to Congressman Edolphus Towns (D-NY) who as chairman of the House Government Oversight Committeee would have to conduct the investigation. He has not yet deigned to respond to Mr. Rush’s letter. It has been more than four months.

    Senator Chuck Grassley stated that the medical center “appears to be culling the least profitable patients from its emergency room.” Edward Novak, president of Chicago’s Sacred Heart Hospital said, “What they’re really saying is, ‘Don’t use our emergency room because it will cost us money and we don’t want the public-aid population.’” The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) stated that the hospital’s policy “is dangerously close to ‘patient dumping.’” ACEP further asserted that the hospital’s policy “reflected an effort to ‘cherry pick’ wealthy patients over poor.”

    Interestingly, in 2005, after Michelle Obama had help initiate her seepage control scheme – and (perhaps not so coincidentally) after Barack Obama had been elected to the U.S. Senate – Susan Sher promoted Mrs. Obama was promoted to the position of Vice President of External Community Affairs. Along with the promotion came a staggering salary increase from $121,000 to $300,000 a year. But not to worry – for Sen. Obama immediately asked for a $1 million earmark for the medical center.

    Determined to both spread the gospel of the Urban Health Initiative — and lucrative remuneration around to their friends — Michelle Obama, Susan Sher, and Valerie Jarret (then, chairman of the UCMC board) hired David Axelrod’s public relations firm, ASK. The purpose of hiring ASK was to promote Michelle Obama’s Urban Health Initiative. ASK suggested a name change for the program (“urban” sounded too much like a codeword for black) and designed an Astroturf campaign to sell it to the community.

    Mrs. Obama, along with her friends Susan Sher and Valerie Jarret, all resigned from UCMC early this year to take up their roles in the White House. Ms. Sher is Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff. Valerie Jarret has become one of Barack Obama’s most influential advisors, often compared to the legendary Lady MacBeth. After the firestorm over UCMC’s reluctance to treat poor emergency room patients became public, the CEO, James Madara, also resigned.

    Although criticisms have been sharp and numerous poor people have been denied treatment at UCMC, Michelle Obama’s program has been a shining success: UCMC is now free to cater to wealthier patients. UCMC’s finances are in the black. And unwanted seepage has stopped clogging up the elite hospital’s emergency room.

    Now, having solved the UCMC detritus problem, Mrs. Obama (along with the ever-present Susan and Valerie), is helping her husband solve his medical treatment problems by dumping over-sixty-seepage into Soylent Green Rationing Rooms. And like the jingle says, “away goes trouble down the drain.”

    Richard McCarty is an associate director of research for Americans for Limited Government. Carter Clews is the Executive Editor of ALG News.

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