U of C to close women's health clinic

May 19, 2009 (CHICAGO) Officials at the University of Chicago Medical Center say the clinic is losing too much money. Critics say the hospital is leaving the poor without a good option for healthcare.

For many years teaching hospitals were happy to run clinics in low income neighborhoods. But nowadays the University of Chicago medical system is in the midst of trying to shed $100 million from its annual budget.

Closing the clinic is the latest attempt to try to nudge South Side residents into receiving more cost-effective care.

Michelle Willis is nearly seven-months in to her high-risk pregnancy. But now, the University of Chicago is closing its Women's Health Center and encouraging patients like her to go to neighborhood clinics.

"I don't want to go to Provident or Mercy. It's comfortable and soothing here," said Michelle Willis, University of Chicago clinic patient.

But it's also expensive for U. of C. to run. The clinic lost nearly a $1 million last year. Part of the problem: Medicaid payments from the state are slow and the university's treatment costs are much higher than what's covered.

"We're trying to find more cost-effective ways to take care of these patients, but to do it in a more efficient way," said John Easton, University of Chicago Medical Center spokesman.

The Friend and Family Health Center is among the two dozen neighborhood clinics where U of C is encouraging its low-income patients to seek treatment. But they're battling a perception problem.

"They're overbooked, they're overworked. A lot of doctors can't deal with certain high risk clinical patients," said Andrea Woodson, University of Chicago clinic patient.

That's not the case, says Schena Jones whose 4 year-old son Ki is seeing the pediatrician on Tuesday.

"I won't go nowhere else. I asked how long can you take care of my kids?" said Schena Jones, mother.

But not all clinics are created equal. And many worry that going someplace without the University of Chicago name will equal inferior care.

"Why can't we go back to the hospital?" asked Aikethia Bell, University of Chicago clinic patient.

ABC7: "They say it costs them too much."

"No, they have funding. It's somewhere. Someone has it," said Bell.

"I can't complain. All I can do is keeping on rolling with it. Got two to three months to go," said Willis.

A University of Chicago spokesman says the hospital will continue to treat severe, complex and emergency cases regardless of a patient's ability to pay.

U. of C., like other hospitals, has been discouraging people from using their ER as a walk-in clinic. But some see these cost-cutting measures as the hospital turning its back on the poor.

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