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Presence Health hospitals protest Medicaid cuts in Rauner budget

Hospital staff and patients at Saint Joseph Hospital — along with 10 other Presence Health hospitals across Illinois — are taking a very literal approach to protesting Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed cuts to Medicaid.

They’re signing giant poster-size letters to state politicians and planning to hand-deliver the posters to the Capitol building in Springfield.

“If Medicaid budget cuts are implemented, it will have a devastating effect on the lives of many,” the letter reads.

Last week, the Rauner administration revealed that its budget proposal includes $106 million in cuts to the Medicaid program for low-income and disabled people. It’s part of a deal to close a $1.6 billion state budget gap.

Services that would be affected by cuts include free mammograms for women at risk of breast cancer; behavioral health counseling for families and individuals; diabetes treatment; prenatal care for pregnant women; and pediatric care for children, the hospital says.

At Saint Joseph, about 15 to 16 percent of patients use Medicaid, which would translate to almost $3 million in funding cuts. At Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston, 22.7 percent of patients use Medicaid, which would mean $8 million in cuts.

Presence St. Joseph Hospital employees wait on Wednesday to sign a card being sent to state lawmakers to protest proposed Medicaid cuts. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times  Media

Presence St. Joseph Hospital employees wait on Wednesday to sign a card being sent to state lawmakers to protest proposed Medicaid cuts. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media

“Today, tomorrow and Friday at all 11 Presence hospitals, we’ll have these on display at the lunch hour and are urging people — our employees, patients, visitors, anyone — who believes that Medicaid shouldn’t be cut and we need this money to continue to provide services,” said Jim O’Connell, spokesman at Saint Joseph Hospital.

Roberta Luskin-Hawk, president and CEO of Presence Saint Joseph Hospital and Saint Francis Hospital joined her staff Wednesday in the St. Joseph Hospital lobby, urging them to sign the letters for what she called an important cause.

“Sometimes cuts are done in the spirit of being the good fiscal steward. If you send more patients with mental health disease down the street, there’s more crime, more homelessness, more people in jail. It’s actually more expensive,” Luskin-Hawk said. “One of the programs they’re looking to cut is breast cancer screenings. More women will die. More women will present with late stage breast cancer. It’s more expensive. It doesn’t even make fiscal sense let alone ethical sense.”

In addition to caring for Medicaid patients in the hospital, Saint Joseph also provides care for public aid patients in its Laboure Outpatient Clinic, which serves to help the underinsured and undocumented patients.

“Three million in cuts will significantly impact the care we’re able to provide. Many of them are underinsured or uninsured and our clinic is able to fill in the gap for coverage in order to provide care or continuing care,” said Maria Chicchelly, director of patient care services.

That includes help the Medicaid patients may not receive elsewhere, such as orthopedic, neurology, podiatry, dermatology and behavioral health care, she said.