It’s no surprise that Dr. Claudia Fegan became a trailblazer for health care reform – social justice is in her blood. Fegan’s mother was a social worker and her father was a labor union organizer – a combination which created a solid foundation for her career.
Fegan serves as the Chief Medical Officer of Cook County Health and has been working towards health care reform for 40 years. She joined the National Healthcare Service Corps in the eighties after completing medical school. When governmental funding was cut, she joined a small team of committed physicians in a private practice before being offered a position at Cook County and climbing her way up the leadership ladder.
Her passion for health care reform has been with her throughout her career and was sparked by her first job working in a small clinic on Chicago’s South Side. She noticed that the community was “susceptible to the whims of political change” – citizens had health care needs that were not being met and “decision-making was driven more by profit” than distributing resources fairly.
Fegan continues to be perplexed that the United States, one of the richest countries in the world, doesn’t guarantee public access to health care. She addresses this predicament in her book “Universal Healthcare: What the United States Can Learn from the Canadian Experience.” She noticed that in Canada, there is an open dialogue between patients and health care providers; the public is involved in making decisions about resource allocation for their specific community needs.
“We should be making decisions on how [to] provide the most care to the most people and the best care to people instead of how [to] increase our profits,” she says.
As a community leader, Dr. Fegan has inspired medical students to get involved in social justice by considering what the people in their area need to thrive. She continues to pass on lessons from her mentor who told her “at the end of the day, everything is health,” from safe housing to public transportation to food and nutrition access.
This mentality has imbued her work at Cook County, too. Today, the county partners with the Greater Chicago Food Depository so that doctors can write prescriptions for fruits and vegetables for those who need nutritious food options.
“As physicians, we have the opportunity to be leaders for our community and advocate for the things we know our communities need,” says Fegan. In addition to her work locally, Fegan has also worked on the national stage, testifying before the Senate on a number of issues throughout the years.
Most recently, she brought attention to the risk of privatizing Medicare that poses a threat to senior citizens in the community.
She also encourages citizens to advocate for health care reform for themselves, their families and communities. “There are lots of opportunities to get involved,” she says, from attending a meeting to speaking before Congress. “Folks will be amazed how powerful they are…There is nothing more powerful than a group of activated citizens who are confronting their congresspeople to meet their needs,” says Fegan.
In the last 40 years, Fegan has been at the leading edge of progress for community health care and encouraged dialogue between patients and providers. She continues to advocate for health care as an equal right to everyone living in the United States.
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