January 7, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
It's the people stories that grab us. Oprah, Blago, Burris.
Eyes may glaze over at too many policy points and the mind may not easily wrap itself around numbers that end in too many zeros, but the human drama draws us in.
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Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin
That's why Tuesday's Sun-Times story "Oprah Loses Her Groove" and how she's going to get it back was more likely to be read before any one of us plunged into a long discourse on Congress' economic stimulus options. It turns out Oprah's still a lot like the rest of us. Susceptible to mild depression, according to her trainer, and unable to stop eating multigrain chips until the whole darn bag is demolished. Which of us doesn't get that?
And which of us doesn't find the spectacle of disgraced Gov. Blagojevich and Roland Burris, his self-important senatorial designee, spellbinding? It's like road kill, really. Hate looking at it and yet we just can't look away.
But in the meantime, there are people stories piling up all over the place, compelling human dramas and tales of genuine suffering, that we're missing entirely.
On Monday night, on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight," State Rep. Patti Bellock, a Republican from Woodridge and a member of the House Impeachment Inquiry, put a spotlight on it. Bellock said that while Blagojevich fiddles with the feds, a state of crisis is building in this state when it comes to critical health care and health providers.
Bellock said a doctor called her office six weeks ago. "She was in tears" saying the state was $200,000 behind in Medicaid payments to her family clinic and that soon they may have to close their doors.
When that call came in, Bellock said, she called Blagojevich's office. "It was two days before the governor was arrested," Bellock recalled later. "I talked to one of his aides" but the aide quickly quit or took a leave of absence after his boss was taken into FBI custody. Just one of too many examples of how state government has been frozen by this scandal. "The chain of communication is broken," she said.
Another of Bellock's regular calls comes from the COACH Care Center in Naperville. COACH stands for Coordinating Action for Children's Health.
"We take care of medically fragile children," CEO Debbie Grisko said by phone Tuesday. "Children with trachs, ventilators, feeding tubes."
Seventy-eight percent of Grisko's clients live at or below the poverty level -- families from Champaign to the Wisconsin border, who can't keep their kids in hospitals forever and who need help learning how to care for them at home.
"Our bills are five months behind in being paid," Grisko said. And the irony, she points out, is that her agency estimates it actually saved the state $4.6 million in the last year by helping children transition into home care and out of more expensive facilities.
Yet another of Bellock's regular calls comes from St. Anthony Hospital in Chicago.
"We are basically a baby hospital," said Jim Gaffney, vice president of accretive health.
Located on the West Side, its patients are mostly Hispanic and poor. "People come in from Mexico, and arrive at our doorstep, pregnant mothers who have their babies in our hospital. Their kids become citizens. If you were in that situation, you would do the same thing," Gaffney said. "On a daily basis, we have people who come in with nothing, and we take care of them."
All of these places are the safety nets of society. And often, they are the boundary line between life and death for people -- just like us -- who find themselves in a frantic situation. Only now the providers are becoming as frantic as the patients.
Whether the House impeaches Rod Blagojevich, the Senate seats Roland Burris, or Oprah finds her groove again, these human stories deserve every bit as much attention. Or more.