An effort to preserve a 90-year-old Chicago architectural and healthcare landmark has received the support of an even-older Chicago institution, writer and radio broadcaster Studs Terkel.
The author of the famed oral histories Working and Division Street: America has put his 91-year-old back into the last-minute campaign to save the old Cook County Hospital, replaced in 2002 by the 464-bed John Stroger Cook County Hospital and slated for demolition this year. County officials say it would be too costly to remodel, partly because of large quantities of asbestos within.
But the building also is filled with architectural, historic, medical and social significance, Terkel tells Outliers, while standing in front of the building. "We in America suffer from a kind of national Alzheimer's disease. This building is more than bricks or mortar. It's about memory and connecting to the past. This was a place that was all-inclusive, where anyone could go to be treated, regardless of race or income. Many poor people received quality medical treatment there. Doctors from all around the world were trained at Cook County. This place made history."
Quentin Young, a past president of the American Public Health Association who worked at the old county hospital for decades and was chief of internal medicine, says the hospital was the site of the first blood bank. Coronary thrombosis was first described and defined there and early antibiotics were tested there. The hospital was recognized worldwide for its trauma unit, which inspired the popular television drama "ER." It also was part of several movies, including "The Fugitive."
Jonathan Fine, president of Preservation Chicago, an advocacy group committed to protecting Chicago's historic architecture, said the building could be rehabbed for less than half the estimated $30 million it would cost to raze it. "This building can serve as physician offices, living units for medical personnel, a Ronald McDonald House and retail services. We think large historic buildings can be turned into vibrant, income-producing assets for the city."
Cook County Board Chairman John Stroger, once a proponent of demolition, said in late June that he is willing to listen to the preservationists' arguments, but board member Jerry Butler says preservationists waited too long to try to persuade officials to save it. "I don't think the old hospital should stand in the way of the future," he says.
A national healthcare insurer has earned a title it says it's working hard to shed. Cigna HealthCare is the worst health plan of the year, according to the Texas Medical Association.
On the association's 2002 "Hassle Factor Log," Bloomfield, Conn.-based Cigna scored the highest number of complaints-7.2 per 10,000 patient enrollees-among the six biggest insurers in the report. More than 1,200 physicians logged 8,500 complaints about 517 insurers. The TMA has issued reports on the complaints since 1998 and has been gathering complaints since 1991.
"Cigna was undoubtedly the most difficult insurer to deal with when we compare them on an equal footing with their competitors in Texas," says Lewis Foxhall, chair of the TMA's Council on Socioeconomics. "Slow-pay/no-pay tactics like those reported to our Hassle Factor Log program are prime examples of why the TMA pushed so hard for the prompt-pay legislation Gov. Rick Perry signed into law last month."
Despite scoring the highest number of complaints this year, Cigna says it has improved its operations significantly. Cigna's score is a drop from last year's 10 complaints per 10,000 enrollees.
Outliers is feeling a little burned after profiling Clarian Health Partners' new People Mover train system linking the Indianapolis-based system's two campuses (June 9, p. 36).
The ink was hardly dry on the piece when last week the $40 million train caught fire after its braking system failed, trapping several people and sending one-who had difficulty breathing-to the hospital. The train had to be pushed by a small tractor to a station.
"The entire system will be shut down until we can find out exactly what happened," Clarian spokeswoman Glendal Jones told the Associated Press. "The main issue here is safety."
Too little, too late
Richard Sobota, president and CEO of 37-bed Pike Community Hospital in Waverly, Ohio, wants his state government to start thinking outside the box when it comes to efficiency.
Already peeved by Republican Gov. Bob Taft's proposal to freeze Medicaid rates for two years, he blew his stack when earlier this month he received in the mail a large box from the governor's office. At the bottom of the mostly empty container was a single poster and three buttons. They were to mark AIDS Awareness Week, which took place in early May.
Sobota made sure the governor knew about the "four relatively useless items" in the tardy delivery by writing a letter to Taft. "At a time when I am in the midst of a major cost-reduction effort necessitated by reduction in payments from governmental health programs, this example of governmental waste is like having salt rubbed into an open wound," he wrote. "I don't know the cost of sending me these items, but whatever that cost is, I would prefer to have it added to my Medicaid reimbursement."