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Michelle’s Hospital Turned Away The Poor

This is something we have posted before, but it seems timely again in view of today’s ‘bipartisan healthcare summit.’

From the archives of the Chicago Sun-Times:

Martin Nesbitt, Valerie Jarrett, President Obama, Dr. Eric Whitaker

U. of C. shunning poor patients?

Obama’s wife, 3 aides tied to plan to free up space

August 23, 2008

BY TIM NOVAK AND CHRIS FUSCO Staff Reporters

Sen. Barack Obama’s wife and three close advisers have been involved with a program at the University of Chicago Medical Center that steers patients who don’t have private insurance — primarily poor, black people — to other health care facilities.

Michelle Obama — currently on unpaid leave from her $317,000-a-year job as a vice president of the prestigious hospital — helped create the program, which aims to find neighborhood doctors for low-income people who were flooding the emergency room for basic treatment. Hospital officials say such patients hinder their ability to focus on more critically ill patients in need of specialized care, such as cancer treatment and organ transplants.

Obama’s top political strategist, David Axelrod, co-owns the firm, ASK Public Strategies [which invented ‘astro-turfing’], that was hired by the hospital last year to sell the program — called the Urban Health Initiative — to the community as a better alternative for poor patients. Obama’s wife and Valerie Jarrett, an Obama friend and adviser who chairs the medical center’s board, backed the Axelrod firm’s hiring, hospital officials said.

Another Obama adviser and close friend, Dr. Eric Whitaker, took over the Urban Health Initiative when he was hired at U. of C. in October 2007. Whitaker previously had been director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Obama has said he recommended Whitaker for the state job, giving his name to Tony Rezko, who helped Gov. Blagojevich assemble his Cabinet. Rezko, a former fund-raiser for Obama and Blagojevich, was convicted in June on federal corruption charges tied to state deals…

"I’ve heard complaints from a handful of constituents, but I’ve also had calls from people in the health care profession complaining," said Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, whose 4th Ward is just north of the hospital. "The medical professionals who have come to me are accusing the university of dumping patients on its neighboring institutions. … Whether it’s being implemented in the way that’s in the best interest of the patient, I can’t tell you."

Sen. John McCain, Obama’s Republican opponent, criticized the Democratic presidential hopeful Friday for having pledged on the campaign trail to expand health care for Americans at the same time his top political strategist "was running a campaign to cut coverage for the poor."

Axelrod, whose firm stopped working on the project in October, responded that he was concerned that presidential politics was distorting the university’s efforts to improve health care for poor people and to lower costs.

Whitaker, who has traveled with Obama on the presidential campaign trail, chalked up the criticism to people opposed to change.

"In the past, we opened our doors and saw whoever came," Whitaker said Friday. "We would see a patient who had general pneumonia, and if we needed to see a patient who needed a liver transplant, that liver transplant patient couldn’t get in the door."

At the same time, the Urban Health Initiative is improving the university’s finances. Fewer poor patients are showing up at the U. of C. emergency room for basic medical treatment and are no longer admitted to the hospital. That frees beds for transplants, cancer care and other more-profitable medical procedures that the university prides itself on.

That is, Michelle and her then boss Mr. Whitaker didn’t want lower paying patients to get in the way of the more high profit patients.

"The collapse of the health care system was driving more and more people to the emergency room," Axelrod said. "The trend line was and is a disastrous one from the standpoint of maintaining the hospital. Their goal was to find an answer."

So they are only taking patients that will best help their bottom line.

Axelrod’s firm did polling and found that some of the university’s primary-care doctors feared the hospital was turning its back on surrounding poor neighborhoods, according to a May 2007 report the firm gave the university.

Axelrod’s firm also suggested the program’s name be changed. "Some participants view the word ‘urban’ as code for ‘black,’ " according to a poll the firm commissioned.

You see, all you have to do is repackage the program and everything will be fine. (Never mind that poor patients are still being turned away so that the hospital can make a bigger profit and pay people like Michelle Obama $317,000 a year for a largely no-show job.)

The other aide mentioned in this article, Mr. Whitaker is still one of Mr. Obama’s closest friend.

In this Aug. 24, 2009, file photo President Barack Obama waves as he walks with his BFF, Dr. Eric Whitaker while playing golf during his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard in Oak Bluffs, Mass.

In fact, Mr. Whitaker is President Obama’s near constant companion. So he certainly still has his ear when it comes to healthcare reform.

Indeed, it was Mr. Whitaker and Valerie Jarrett who got Mrs. Obama her job in the first place. The hospital was then rewarded in turn by millions of dollars in earmarks from State Senator Barack Obama.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Thursday, February 25th, 2010. Comments are currently closed.

4 Responses to “Michelle’s Hospital Turned Away The Poor”

  1. GetBackJack

    This is a family friendly Forum of great retorts and solid responses by seasoned professional observers with decidedly Conservative views.

    I, on the other hand, am incandescent with ill will towards the evil that is everything the Democratic Party represents and therefore must gag myself from further response on this post.

    Selah

  2. Confucius

    I’d like to raise a few points:

    (politics exit stage right)

    1. Primary care physicians are partly to blame for this. They don’t want to take care of their patients after hours leaving emergency rooms to do their work for them. This has resulted in people seeking non-emergency medical care in the ER.

    2. Politicians own the rest of the blame. ERs are mandated under the penalty of law to see each and every patient irregardless of their condition.

    3. These have contributed unnecessarily to the current state of overcrowded ERs and high ER bills.

    (politics enter stage left)

    1. Dr. Eric Whitaker got his medical degree from the University of Chicago. He then went on to Harvard to get a Masters in Public Health. (The more typical path is to go on to a clinical internship and residency, which are more rigorous and demanding.) Dr. Whitaker is not identified as board-certified by the American Boards of Internal Medicine or Family Medicine. Interestingly, Illinois gave him a license to practice medicine. (http://www.abim.org/services/physver.aspx and https://www.theabfm.org/diplomate/find.aspx?ts=634026975)

    2. Dr. Eric Whitaker identifies his interests as including “HIV/AIDS prevention and minority health, particularly for black males.” (http://www.uchospitals.edu/new.....taker.html)

    3. This news story undermines Obama’s campaign rhetoric of being above politics.

    4. Dr. Whitaker needs to do more than just play golf. He’s gotten really fat.

  3. Right of the People

    “In fact, Mr. Whitaker is President Obama’s near constant companion.”

    Only one thing I’m not clear about, is Barry Whtiaker’s boy toy or the other way around?

  4. Mithrandir

    I just looked this up. Why would Michelle Obama, attend law school, get her license, work for a highly regarded law firm with Bill Ayers wife, then be ‘court ordered’ to hand in her law license a few years later?

    What did she do?

    According to the Illinois bar association web site, under her name, she was ordered to hand in her license. There is no record of official misconduct, and she didn’t willingly give it up like her husband did to pursue higher office…….so, why would you spend so much time/money to get it, only to have it yanked away by the courts?

    What did she do?

    Everything this woman is involved with is tainted somehow by mysterious jobs she is paid for, for no work, her hospital doing unethical things, her law license being revoked….what is going on here?




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