Thursday, February 01, 2007

Under Stroger's proposed cuts, the poor are sacrificial lambs

Under Stroger's proposed cuts, the poor are sacrificial lambs
February 1, 2007
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times

How dare the Cook County Board of Commissioners balance the county's budget on the backs of poor people! Many of these people are the same people who flocked to the polls to elect board President Todd Stroger over his Republican opponent, Tony Peraica.
Although Stroger exploited a flawed process to get on the ballot in the first place, his base remained loyal.

But what will the average Stroger supporter get now that he's in the big chair? Fewer services.

No, you can't blame Stroger for the $500 million budget deficit his father, John H. Stroger, left behind. Yet, we all know that this gaping hole was created by an out-of-control patronage system.

But instead of Todd Stroger (and commissioners) setting an example by letting go of "Kiki" (relatives and cronies on the payroll), the mostly Democratic Cook County Board is poised to cut basic services to the poor.

Indeed, Stroger's demand for commissioners to trim 17 percent from their budgets has started a revolt:

"Until I see a level playing field ... I'm not cutting one dime," Earlean Collins said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the poorest residents in Cook County are faced with the prospect of shuttered health and dental clinics. Besides eliminating drug programs and laying off prosecutors and public defenders, Stroger proposes deep cuts in the county's public health system, which provides health and dental services to suburban Cook County residents.

Struggling families
I'm not as concerned about the layoffs of doctors and nurses.
More than likely, these professionals will land other jobs in better surroundings. After all, it takes a lot of commitment to work in public health. Although these doctors have the opportunity to treat serious diseases early in their careers, they often work in hostile environments.

Several years ago, I worked on a story about then-Cook County Hospital's ER. I watched doctors fight to save the life of a young man whose body was riddled with bullets. At the same time, detectives were trying to get information out of the gunshot victim, while down the hall, the victim's homies were raising hell in a waiting room.

It was a chaotic scene that has become routine.

Yet these public health professionals, like public defenders and prosecutors, are underpaid and always overworked.

If the proposed health care cuts actually go into effect, the children will be the first to suffer.

Remember that? It's something Democrats used to say. And it's true.

Although physical and dental exams are required before children enter kindergarten, second and sixth grades, for a lot of families, routine exams and dental exams are luxuries. A lot of these families struggle to meet this school requirement even though noncompliant students can be banned from classrooms.

And in extreme cases, particularly in child custody cases, a parent who fails to provide proof of a dental visit can risk being charged with medical neglect.

What do commissioners think will happen when free dental clinics are closed?

'This is inhumane'
Dr. Laurie Lightfoot, a dentist at the Cook County Department of Public Health, called me this week about the impact the proposed cuts to public health would have on people who live in the suburbs.
"Many of these low-income families already have major barriers to accessing health care. We are the safety net and one of the few front-line health delivery systems," she said.

"Many of these people have never had contact with health care providers, and we see oral cancers, hypertension, HIV/AIDS and other serious diseases that are initially manifested in the mouth. I have been a dentist 20 years and was in private practice the first 10 to 12 years of my professional life. I chose public service," Lightfoot said.

"This is inhumane," she said. "People see it as budget cuts, but this is not a cut. This is the annihilation of an entire health service."

But the most egregious aspect of this budget debacle is the role Dr. Robert Simon is playing. How do you justify putting a doctor who publicly ridiculed a large chunk of the patients served by the system in charge of overseeing it?

In a now infamous Chicago Reader interview that appeared 12 years ago (I was covering City Hall at the time), Simon scolded "die-hard liberals" for supporting programs for the homeless, saying "most" homeless people "could do things for themselves, but won't."

"So who the hell cares about them?" Simon asked.

He also said doctors and nurses are "overpaid," while most of the work that emergency room nurses do can be done by someone with only a high school education.

Today, Simon appears to be just the man to do the dirty work of "die-hard liberals'" on the County Board.

But don't be fooled.

While poor people are being sacrificed, Kiki still has a job.


Post a Comment

<< Home