With the rallying cry, “No cuts, No cuts!” it was standing room only at Trinity Church (1211 N. Waller) Tuesday evening. West Side Health Authority organizer Virgil Crawford opened the rally, called to protest Cook County Board President Todd Stronger’s 17-percent across-the-board health care cuts, by thanking the sponsors-South Austin Coalition, West Side churches and Westside Health Authority.
“We’re in a storm tonight,” Crawford said, “a storm that threatens to wipe out much of the health care services that we have in our community. And we know this is a threat that we as a community cannot afford to endure. So your presence here tonight is a testament to those who are in positions as stewards over the services that we receive in this county. Your presence here is a testament that something is wrong and that you are in protest against the plan that is on the board right now. We’re asking that those county commissioners be seriously open to what you have to say because you’re the voters, you’re the taxpayers, you’re the people who use the facilities, and we have to preserve those facilities.”
West Side Health Authority’s Jacqueline Reed, president/CEO and founder, said, “A little over a year ago, many of us were stuck at the TV looking at our fellow citizens on the bridge in New Orleans because the dams broke. And we saw what our leaders thought about our people. One of our leaders got in a plane and flew over people and said, ‘Ain’t that a shame.’ Now we are in Chicago and many of us love Cook County Hospital. We go there, and we wait eight hours, nine hours to see a doctor, then we wait eight hours to get a prescription. But we know when we’re waiting at county at least we’re going to get decent care. I just want you to know the dams have broke and our leaders don’t care. They’re flying over, saying we can’t afford to care that 300 people come back to Austin every month from the penitentiary without health care. And they don’t care enough to get an exam before they leave prison, so people are coming back to the neighborhood with HIV/AIDS, bringing it back here, making Austin one of highest communities with HIV/AIDS. They don’t care that we don’t have decent housing for our children. And we have the highest rate of lead poisoning in the city of Chicago right here in Austin. And our kids can’t get care because they don’t care, the dam’s broken.
“I went to jail in 1965 in Mississippi because of civil rights, because they didn’t care, and they thought they could get away with it. The purpose of this meeting tonight is to let them know they can’t get away with it. We see right now our people are scared all over the city. We see right now people calling and saying, ‘I lost my job. Where can I go? I had health insurance. My doctor can’t see me no more because I don’t have insurance. My doctors are saying they want to care about me, but can’t because they do not have a way to give me my medicine if they do see me. The Austin Wellness Clinic is not on the chopping block to close, but other clinics are. If I don’t stand up for you, they will come for me. So we’re in this together and we better care for one another.”
Crawford said, “We want to send a message to President Todd Stroger at the Cook County Board of Commissioners: We’re here tonight as a community to send you a message via television. We will be to see you in person on Jan. 29. The message we are sending to you is that we are not standing for any cuts.”
Dr. Gregory Vachon, medical director of the Austin Health Center of Cook County, introduced guest speaker Dr. Claudia Fegan, president of Physicians For National Health.
Dr. Fegan said, “It is important that everyone in this room understand what is at stake. We’re in real danger of losing the health safety net for northern Illinois. What I’m telling you is that the current budget and the budget process in Cook County threatens the future of health care, not just in this community, not just in this city, not just in this county, but in all of northern Illinois. The cuts we are talking about will cause the collapse of the safety net as we know it. And it won’t happen tonight, it won’t happen this week, it won’t happen this month, but most assuredly it will happen. It will happen slowly and painfully over the next 3-5 years. And for people most in need it will be a free-fall to miserable, painful death. There is no way to sugarcoat it to make it sound nice, because there is nothing nice about the budget that they are creating and that they are trying to ram down our throats.
“There are three things I want you to remember tonight: First of all, that published budget they gave us last week is not the ‘real’ budget; second, the budget shows a plan to cut the deepest, the most cost-effective, clinically-efficient forces of the Bureau of Health Services, and that is just wrong; and the third thing is that we need to speak up.”
Pastor Ira Acree stated, “We have come together to tell Todd Stroger that these budget cuts are insensitive, inhumane. We demand for him to look out for the people who put him in office.”
New State Rep. LaShawn Ford added, “I understand the plight of the community because I live in the community. I understand that we got a problem with AIDS. I understand that we got a problem with the closing of the clinics. My mother told me this morning, ‘I hope they don’t close that clinic on Chicago Avenue’ because she was there this morning. My mother wanted me to be here to say don’t close their clinic. I’m here to tell you in Springfield I’m ready to fight, and I’m there for you. My office is located at Chicago Avenue and LeClaire, 773/378-5902.”
Keith Freeman, health care organizer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, also spoke, and many well-known West Side leaders were in attendance, as well, including Rev. Lewis Flowers, Gale Lindo, Mrs. Lillian Drummond and Rev. Elizabeth Bynum.
Photo by Delores McCain
Photo by Delores McCain
Opposed: (Left) Dr. Claudia Fegan joined other health care professionals at Tuesday’s rally. (Right) Pastor Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church speaks out against the proposed cuts.