Cook County 'shutdown' a pain for some hospital patients

April 22, 2011

By Alex Keefe and The Associated Press

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Cook County's money-saving government shutdown Friday is causing headaches for some county hospital patients.

Some Cook County health system patients received phone calls confirming appointments set for Friday, only to show up for their visit to find the hospitals closed as part of a money-saving government "shutdown day."

The Cook County Board approved five government shutdown days as part of the budget this year. The idea was to save money without cutting county jobs.

Sharon Taylor, who showed up at Stroger to fill a prescription, said she didn't get the message that the pharmacy would be closed Friday.

"And I'm not very happy about a pharmacy being closed in a major hospital," Taylor said. "So something really needs to be done about that."

Pharmacy customer Michael Spaulding got choked up when he talked about his three-hour commute from the far South Side, only to find out that the pharmacy at Stroger Hospital was closed.

"[I] come to pick up my wife's medication," he said, holding back tears. "She's got lupus."

National Nurses United, a nurses union, said some patients even received automated phone calls confirming their appointments even though offices were closed.

Cook County Health and Hospitals System spokesman Lucio Guerrero said the county tried to notify as many patients as possible about the shutdown, either through phone calls or the media. But many patients make appointments months in advance, sometimes making them difficult to contact if they changed their phone number without telling the county, Guerrero said.

"We definitely apologize and wanna let them know we're gonna do better the next time around to let people know more that we're gonna be closed. And really try to reach those patients before they get in their cars or get on the bus and come out to us," Guerrero said.

Guerrero said he didn't know how many people may have received erroneous automated phone calls, but added the agency will look into the problems before the next shutdown day, scheduled for May 27th.

Sixteen county clinics were scheduled to be closed Friday, including pharmacies, labs and hospital-based specialty clinics. Emergency rooms at Stroger, Provident and Oak Forest hospitals are open, as is the urgent care walk-in clinic at the Fantus Health Center.