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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Spreading the good news: community health victory

Last year, I worked alongside a small but committed group of neighbors, public officials and non-profit professionals to apply for a grant to build a Federally Qualified Health Center locally. Yesterday the official word went out that our application was approved and we'll see our new clinic opening its doors in February 2008. Check out the press release posted on the Neighbors for a Healthy Rogers Park Web site.

Rogers Park, where I've lived for the past 5 years, is an area on the far north side of Chicago that has an abysmally low level of local health resources. Residents without health insurance, and there are over 20,000 at best guess (one-third of the total population), have to take 3 different buses to reach the county public hospital to receive treatment.

Such a long trek discourages the sick from making anything but emergency visits, and that's when care is the most expensive to administer — a major contributing factor to the Cook county health system's current budget crisis. It's also a terrible situation in which to put folks with chronic conditions such as diabetes, as they require regular visits in order to monitor their health.

Giving the people of our neighborhood a close-by medical home will make it easier for them to seek preventative care, which will not only improve their overall health but save the county and private health systems money by reducing the reliance on emergency room visits. It is a tremendous victory for all of us in Rogers Park, and proof that it is possible to make a positive difference when we come together as a community to address our most vital needs.

We still have much work to do both here in Rogers Park and across the US. The clinic, as important as it is, will only address a fraction of the community's need. With a county health system that is teetering on the brink of collapse, those without a place to receive quality care could escalate sharply. That crisis isn't unique to our city either, as there are 46 million Americans currently without health insurance.

I've been a long-time proponent of single payer health care, and I still believe that's the country's best hope (check out Physicians for a National Health Program to learn more). It's a long term goal, however, as the political will is still not strong enough to overturn the lobbying muscle of the current stakeholders in our dysfunctional health system. While we try to build a movement strong enough to coerce more politicians to jump on the universal health care bandwagon (not to be confused with universal private health insurance), we'll need to win these short term local battles for more health resources.
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