Cook County Health's (CCH) Woodlawn and Near South health centers will close on Dec. 1, with patients redirected to seek care at the John Sengstacke Health Center by Provident Hospital of Cook County.
The news comes as the pandemic and recession continue to wreak havoc on the county health care system's finances and as planning for a new Provident Hospital, 500 E. 51st St., continues.
County officials say all services at the two closed clinics will continue being offered at the Stengstacke center. Construction will not be complete on the new Provident Hospital for years, however.
Meanwhile, National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC)/National Nurses United is planning a protest at Provident on Aug. 28 at noon to protest the loss of 130 jobs across CCH, amid service cutbacks at Holy Cross, 2701 W. 68th St., and Jackson Park, 7531 S. Stony Island Ave., hospitals and the planned closure of Mercy Hospital, 2525 S. Michigan Ave.
“It is inconceivable to me that cutting health care services and access is even considered in the midst of a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting Black and Brown communities,” said Martese Chism, a case manager for CCH and a board member of NNOC, which represents Cook County registered nurses, in a statement. “This, just two months after President Preckwinkle formally declared racism a public health crisis in the Chicago Tribune. It is life-threatening hypocrisy and we won’t stand for it.”
None of the jobs will be lost at the closing health centers in Bronzeville or Woodlawn.
County Commissioner Bill Lowry (D-3rd) said the CCH Board of Directors will vote to close the two health centers at its Aug. 28 meeting; he framed it as a necessity to deal with the system's $187 million deficit next year. He called the Woodlawn, 6337 S. Woodlawn Ave., and Near South, 3525 S. Michigan Ave., health centers, which currently offer medical and dental care, outdated and small, with limited parking.
Nevertheless, "You never want to see facilities that are rendering health care in our communities close, especially when our communities don't have the health care that I believe our constituents need," he said.
The new Provident is coming, Lowry said, in late 2023 or early 2024, with expanded outpatient services in behavioral health, family medicine, gynecology, internal medicine, prenatal care, addiction care, cardiology, colorectal, diabetes, endocrinology, gastroenterology, geriatrics, breast clinic, cardiac and pulmonary diagnostics, diagnostic imaging, general medicine, a lifestyle center, mammography, dialysis neurology, ophthalmology, optometry, a pharmacy, podiatry, psychology, psychiatry, renal care, sleep medicine, social services and urology.
Asking patients to commute to Stengstacke in the meantime "is unfortunate, and it is inconvenient," Lowry said — though the county provides free transportation to doctor's appointments at 312-864-7433 — but he encouraged people to remember that outpatient services will be expanded and that the eventual new Provident will be both modern and expanded.
By next year, Provident will have a new lifestyle center with programmatic and educational services to help patients handle chronic diseases, said Nick Shields, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's spokesman. A multimillion-dollar dialysis center will open, and existing diagnostic services like MRI, CT scans and radiology services, will expand, as will outpatient surgery operations.
Shields recalled that CCH provides half of the charity care in the county and said the consolidation is ultimately being done to preserve the amount of care being offered to poor people in the area.
"We remain committed to the mission that the Cook County health system has provided for years," he said. "Closer for some, a little but further for others. Services will stay the same."
This story has been updated.