Mammogram Clinics Lose Funding

The city of Chicago has more plans to privatize public health services after losing a grant that helped to pay for thousands of mammograms for the uninsured.  Free mammography screenings were paid for, in part, by a federal grant administered by the state of Illinois.

WGN-TV obtained letters between Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, Director of the Illinois Dept. of Public Health and Dr. Bechara Choucair, Commissioner of the Chicago Dept. of Public Health.

Hasbrouck lists 3 reasons why the state terminated the  grant:

- quality of care at the mammography sites

-lack of referral services available, because the city failed to make required payments to Mercy Hospital

-clinical breast exams not being performed by the right people

“You have to follow the criteria of the grant,” said a worker at one of the clinics, who did not want to be identified.

She says problems started last year when in a cost-cutting move, the city handed over management of its neighborhood primary care clinics to federally qualified health centers, even though Chicago continued to operate mammography screening sites at five clinics in Englewood, Roseland, West Town, Lower West, and Uptown.

“You have to have a physician or a nurse practitioner do the breast exams. You lost the doctors when you privatized,” she said.

State health officials say shifting funding is sometimes necessary to ensure quality. “All eligible women in Chicago will continue to have access to these vital services,” said Melaney Arnold, spokesperson for the Illinois Dept. of Public Health.

Sources tell WGN-TV after the nearly $300,000 grant was pulled, city officials started working on plans to privatize mammography services, also.  Those plans were confirmed in a letter sent Thursday, warning  the Illinois Nurses Association of upcoming layoffs.

“There are more black women who die of breast cancer than any other population in this country. When you start talking about privatization, there are a lot of times that women will not be treated,” said N’Dana Carter, who protested the closings and privatization of Chicago’s mental health clinics, last year. For the uninsured, she says the result has been higher co-pays, higher prescription costs, and longer waits to get an appointment.

A spokesperson for Chicago’s Dept. of Public Health says city officials are exploring ways to “maintain or expand” mammography service.

“Prompted by a loss of state funding, we are trying to work with the unions on how best to move forward,” said Brian Richardson, the department’s director of public affairs.

The worker who spoke with WGN-TV could lose her job, if the changes are approved. She says she hopes health officials will adapt a transition plan to help the 4,000 people who depend on the city for mammograms, each year.

“These are my neighbors, these are people I’ve seen for all these years. They are asking all of these questions and it’s difficult for me to respond because I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know, except for the fact that change is here. The demise of public health is here.”

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