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Column Thu Apr 23 2009

The Pain That Is Michael Reese Hospital

This is a repost from Mike's personal blog.

Ellis Ave.On June 19, 1973 I was brought into the world in a delivery room at Michael Reese Hospital. Eight years later my little sister did the same. In between those years my mother, Barbara, conducted research on infant development at the hospital's Child Development Center.

From my childhood I remember an enormous campus, dozens of buildings, underground tunnels, bustling with activity and life. My mother and her colleagues lectured me on how Reese had the first neonatal ICU, developed the first preemie delivery methods, had the first real cancer treatment centers and was a light of hope and medical greatness for the world -- not just Chicago's South Side.

Over time the hospital began to slide. I've heard numerous explanations: Chicago Jews no longer felt the need to go to a "Jewish hospital"; the hospital disproportionately suffered from Blue Cross/Blue Shield reducing it's reimbursement rate in the early 1980's; it didn't have a high enough payer mix to compensate for the many poor people that lived in it's catchment area. Personally, the slide was brought home by my mother as she periodically announced over dinner new layoffs at Reese every few months, "another 200 nurses laid off today."

Because she was a dogged grant writer, my mother's position -- and her research -- at the Child Development Center (CDC) was considered safe. Like a good mother, she would regularly channel some of the funding to my pockets in return for aggravatingly boring test result tabulation. In the summers I would ride with her to office in the Kaplan Pavilion to color-code dot-matrix print outs in a cubicle, and chat with the nurses and administrative assistants in the break room.

But year after year more and more people at the CDC were laid off -- providing more empty cubicles and fewer people in the break room -- until finally my mother, who's work was largely funded by grants, was finally named "Director" of the CDC. I swear she almost spat when she told me about her new title.

But this Pyrric victory arrived years after Humana. By 1990, non-profit Michael Reese groped for a savior and was snatched up by for-profit Humana hospital. The sigh of relief at the hospital was palpable as my mother's friends prayed they would not be on Humana's next inevitable layoff list. Everyone knew: The hospital was too big, it would have to shrink. Humana would cut somewhere.

Tumor Clinic

Not surprisingly, Humana's takeover of Michael Reese was a dud. Health care was changing and Reese didn't change fast enough. By 1998 -- seven years after Humana took control -- Reese was back on the block. Eventually the hospital was turned over to a new non-profit board led by the hospital's doctors.

By now however, Reese was crippled. It lacked out-patient satellite facilities, modern buildings, a serious capital budget and most of the wealthy Jewish patrons had moved on to Northwestern Medical Center and the University of Chicago Hospitals. It never had a chance.

Despite all this, the hospital provided better care than most. My constantly ill surrogate mother (it seems wrong to call her "nanny"), Inez, always insisted on going to Michael Reese over Mercy, University of Chicago, or (shudder!) South Shore Hospital. The nurses was always kind and the doctors thorough and patient. For months after she broke her hip they gently coaxed her to try to walk -- despite her tears and insistence that it was impossible.

So much effort expended on an octogenarian black woman on Medicaid. Almost 12 years after my mother had left Reese, and as bankruptcy lawyers stared down the hospital, they were still providing good care to people in need. It seemed out of place in today's health care.

There has been a great deal of documentation on the architectural losses Chicago will suffer when Reese is demolished for the planned 2016 Olympic village. Often forgotten is that although the hospital was first built in the 1880s, most of today's Michael Reese Hospital campus was developed as part of a 1950s urban renewal plan. The hospital's old neighborhoods, The Gap and Prairie Shores, were once crowded black tenement neighborhoods, where Chicago elected its first black Alderman and the Black Panthers were once headquartered.

Michael Reese Hospital, slated to close sometime in the next year, will soon be wiped from the map, just as the neighborhoods before it were erased. But I will never forget the brilliance and kindness that lived there for a while.

The Serum Center

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Mary C. / May 13, 2009 8:24 PM

My first job as a nurse was at Michael Reese, in 1981. I remember a huge, busy, vibrant place, full of life, full of doctors, nurses, patients. It makes me very sad to know the fate of the place. I lived right there, at Prairie Shores, and got a commendation one Jan. day for going to work on the coldest day in recorded history, or some such. Here's a toast to all who worked to make that place what it once used to be.

Raeann Fuller / June 13, 2009 7:44 PM

I am a 1977 graduate of the School of Nursing. Micheal Reese provided me with the foundation I needed to be the best patient advocate I could be. The instructors challenged our intellect and our compassion. There is a rich history for this facility and tearing it down not represents our lack of respect for history, and represents what is wrong with healthcare today. as we see everyday in healthcare money supercedes care and support of the neighborhood. The one thing I took away from my time there was the importance of treating the paient, body and soul. This is a sad situation for Chicago history as well as for the healthcare of the southside of Chicago. Micheal Reese was once a center for research with worldwide implications for patient care. I only hope the legacy of all the good this facility did is not lost in the rubble.

Dr. Suzanne Linfield Spindler / July 10, 2009 10:05 PM

I am very sorry and disappointed to read that Michael Reese Hospital is closing. I was born there and was always proud to share that with others. My mother's parents, Rabbi and Fanny Gluckman-Evenstein, lived on the South Side of Chicago. When my late mother, Shirley Evenstein Linfield, was 15, she was stricken with polio after volunteering at Marshall High School to accompany some blind students on a field trip to Buckingham Fountain. Shirley collapsed at home and was taken to Michael Reese where she required many orthopedic surgeries, had to be in an iron lung, and later wore many braces. Shirley spent months in and had many visits to Michael Reese. She graduated from Spalding School for Crippled Children and with her braces on graduated from IIT. It would not have been possible without the great care she received at Michael Reese from Dr. Sideman, Dr. Rosenthal, and a plethora of OTs, PTs, and nurses. Polio and her adolescent days in Michael Reese had a tremendous impact on the tapestry of her life and that of my family's. Michael Reese was an outstanding hospital and training site for many physicians and nurses. Indirectly, this hospital influenced my life. Her lifetime struggle with polio and her experiences in Michael Reese Hospital were a factor in my becoming a psychologist.

Suzanne Linfield Spindler, Ph.D.

Robbin Chark DiCiacco / September 10, 2010 4:19 PM

I am a 1977 graduate of Michael Reese Nursing School. I was born at that hospital in 1956.

I had the most rewarding experience attending school there, residing in the Prairie Shore apartments, and working in Labor and Delivery for a short period of time.

It continues to sadden me to know that the liveliness, love, fun, compassion and excellent healthcare no longer exists.

Sandra McKeddie/Agler / June 30, 2011 7:52 PM

I am a gbrduate of Michael Reese Hospital School of Nursing in 1966.
I have never forgotten the lessons I learned. Some humorus,some heart warming and some that were heart breaking. What an education! I was able to take California State Boards. I worked in hospitals,helped to start a burn unit, and spent the last thirty years in geriatrics as a Director of Nursing and Corporate Nurse.
My training I received has always the the basis of my career. I miss the hospital,the staff and students. What great memories

Theresa / August 21, 2015 10:05 AM

I also worked in the E.D. department. Never met a more caring staff. The Dr's also were excellent and took time to help teach.

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