Austin and Oak Park residents came together Aug. 16 to discuss their concerns regarding the decline in health services at West Suburban Hospital, located at Erie Street and Austin Boulevard. The Oak Park/Austin Health Alliance (OPAHA) is a coalition of local community groups who have come together to address the decline in charity care and the reduction of services to Austin and Oak Park residents.
The South Austin Coalition Community Council is one of the leaders of the new coalition. They have compiled the following list of concerns and allegations:
Last year, West Suburban Hospital was acquired by Resurrection Health Care System (RHC) a $1.2 billion health care corporation that operates eight other Catholic hospitals in the Chicago area. Since acquiring West Suburban, in the first six months, free discounted care to people without insurance dropped by 23 percent; charges for uninsured patients were inflated 215 percent over cost, the highest of any health system in Illinois; and dozens of employees interested in organizing to have a voice in the hospital have been fired, harassed and intimidated.
SACCC further states that as a non-profit corporation, Resurrection Health Care receives an estimated $72 million in tax breaks, with West Suburban receiving over $3 million in property tax exemptions alone. With these tax benefits come community obligations, they say.
The Oak Park/Austin Health Alliance was formed to review these issues, develop specific recommendations to address community concerns and work to open a dialogue with West Suburban Hospital management.
The meeting was held at Third Unitarian Church, 301 N. Mayfield, with Rev. Brian Covell chairing the meeting. An opening statement by community leader Teresa Welch of SACCC got things off to a stirring start. Using her own experiences, Teresa told the audience about some very important tests she underwent at West Suburban. She should have been notified of the results in two days. However, this was not done.
Welch stated, “I called the doctor’s office, I called the hospital to find out what happened, why I did not receive a letter. They told me that they didn’t know why! I’m going to tell them why?”because of their lack of concern for our community and for our people. For some unknown reason, they feel they can treat us any type of way. My doctor is a great doctor. I have no problems with my doctor, but the problem that I have is that when Resurrection took over, they took her out of her nice office at Erie Court and placed her in a substandard office over on Mason and Lake streets. The office is not clean, it’s very poorly run, when you go in the office you have half the staff talking about patients once they leave. Now I don’t care if you have a dollar or $5,000 in your pocket. Health care should be provided to everyone, and everyone should receive equal treatment.
“Our purpose here tonight is simply this: We’re going to demand that Resurrection Hospital gives us fair and equal health care no matter where you live, where you come from, equal health for all, whether they come from Oak Park, Austin, far or near. If they come to that hospital, they deserve health care. They should not be turned around because of the color of their skin. If they are going to stay in our community, then they are going to service our community.”
Elce Redmond then presented a proposed Community Benefits Agreement, which consisted of these four principles:
1) Ensure access to health care for residents in need (Ms. Valentin Williams spoke on this issue, noting that after staying for two hours in the hospital, she got a bill for $2,300 and was never informed of “charity care.”)
2) Provide community benefit programs (Ms. Sheree Hackett spoke on this issue.)
3) Recognize employees’ right to organize (Ms. Kellie Barringer spoke on this issue, stating that employees at West Suburban need a union. “We want to do our job well, but unfortunately the management does not support a union. It is wrong to intimidate employees. Austin/Oak Park deserve quality health care.”)
4) Create a community outreach/input program.
Bill Barclay, head of Oak Park Coalition for Truth & Justice, spoke about the action taken against Attorney General Lisa Madigan and passed out copies of the letter he sent her inviting her to this meeting. Bill and his group organized a petition drive. On Aug. 17 they took 1,000 signed petitions to Madigan’s office and requested that the Attorney General or staff get back to them. The response is currently pending.
Jim Slama, president and co-founder of Sustain, an environmental advocacy non-profit and former publisher of Conscious Choice magazine, talked about several concerns involving Austin/Oak Park. “Part of my concern,” he said, “is quality of life and part of my concern is [West Suburban] won’t provide services for people in need on the West Side who need emergency care. … I strongly believe that people in Austin deserve good quality health care, and if West Suburban Hospital wants to spend $13 million on emergency care services … I think they ought to spend it in Austin.”
Former union president Norman Roth was there supporting the alliance and told the audience his nerve-wracking experience with West Suburban regarding his wife who was going to be sent home with a 103-degree temperature. Roth demanded that his wife be cared for properly and should not be sent home when it was obvious she was very ill.
This community coalition is still in the planning stage. For more information, contact South Austin Coalition Community Council, 342 S. Laramie Ave., 773/287-4570.