More than 60 West Side community activists and clergy stood in silent protest during an Illinois Health Facilities Planning (IHFP) Board meeting on June 23. Members of the West Side Health Crisis Coalition (WSHCC) convened at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, 350 N. Orleans Ave., to protest what they describe as the discriminatory investment practices of Advocate Health Care.

The protesters sought to influence the decision-making process on the part of the IHFP Board which must give its approval before Advocate can receive funds to invest in its hospitals. The group argued that Advocate already has invested $72 million over the last nine years for significant capital improvements at Good Shepherd (which is located in the suburb of Barrington) in addition to the requested $29 million. In contrast, Advocate has not invested any significant capital improvement funds at Bethany Hospital on the West Side.

“They requested $29 million to upgrade the emergency room at Good Shepherd,” said James Muhammad of the West Side Health Crisis Coalition, “yet they have not even made an attempt to make any improvements or expansions at Bethany at all. That is just completely unfair.”

“The West Side is suffering the greatest health care issues in the area,” said Rev. C.J. Wright of the WSHCC. “If I’m in the business of providing health care, and I get money from the federal government, then I ought to have the decency to provide care where it’s needed most?”especially if I call myself a faith-based institution.”

When asked by the board chairwoman to sit down during the June 23 meeting, the WSHCC protesters cited freedom of speech as a constitutional right to remain standing during the discussion of a $29 million capital improvement project at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital.

Within the last several months, WSHCC members have repeatedly urged Advocate to enter a Community Benefits Agreement, which would result in funneling more resources to Advocate’s Bethany Hospital. They cite research which shows that people living in Lawndale suffer from dramatically higher instances of asthma, diabetes, and obesity than the national average. Activists say that people on the West Side deserve a state-of-the-art health facility to address their critical health needs. Advocate has yet to agree to the proposal and WSHCC says the problems with unequal monetary disbursements persist.

WSHCC members are outraged at the planning board’s policy to only hear comments on the proposal from Barrington residents when Advocate’s eight hospitals draw from the same source for funds. The group filed a federal civil rights complaint last year to stop racial redlining by Advocate, the state’s largest health care provider. The complaint is still being investigated by the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The board needs to hear from everyone who might be affected by Advocate’s spending priorities, not just the predominantly white residents who live around Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital,” said Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition and the WSHCC.

“Bethany, which serves a large minority client base, has become a BYOB?”bring your own blanket?”hospital while facilities like Good Shepherd, where affluent whites are served, have separate cardiac and fitness centers,” said Rev. Gregory Livingston, a WSHCC member. “If Advocate Health Care considers all of its facilities and patients as equal, then they ought to provide resources in a more equitable manner.”

Despite the protest however, the board did, in fact, approve the $29 million to upgrade the emergency room at Good Shepherd. There was reason for optimism, though, as the board members did acknowledge the concerns of the WSHCC members and plan on meeting with them soon to discuss resolutions.

“We are holding another rally at the IHFP Board meeting later this month to discuss another monetary request on the part of an Advocate-supported hospital in a suburban community,” said Muhammad, referring to their request for another $50 million, this time for upgrades made to Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. “We will continue to hammer this point home to them until they understand, and we are here for the long haul.”