In the spring of 2004 we learned Advocate Health Care wanted to build a hospital in a southwest suburb of Chicago, my home turf.
Advocate owns nine Chicago-area hospitals, one of which is Christ Hospital, where I discovered as a labor and delivery nurse in 1999 that late-term babies were being aborted alive and shelved to die with no medical intervention.
To this day every hospital in the Advocate system either commits late-term abortions or refers them to an Advocate hospital that does.
Pro-lifers immediately opposed Advocate’s expansion, particularly since a Catholic hospital, St. Francis, also wanted to build.
We organized a protest of Advocate at a public hearing to consider its plan. It was there we first encountered the Service Employees International Union, also protesting Advocate.
Advocate, as “metropolitan Chicago’s leading private provider of health care and its third largest private employer,” according to an SEIU flyer, had 25,000 nonunionized workers.
St. Francis wasn’t unionized either, but it was only one hospital. SEIU was focusing on the big fish.
Working with SEIU against Advocate was the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, only I didn’t realize it then.
SEIU and ACORN were working together to make Advocate’s life miserable for not unionizing. SEIU had formed the Hospital Accountability Project, accusing Advocate of gouging the poor with “discriminatory pricing of health care and predatory collections policies that disproportionately impact the uninsured,” according to an SEIU flyer.
SEIU was also demanding Advocate provide more charity care and, of course, unionize.
I knew a group of poor people had protested at both Christ Hospital and the home of its CEO but didn’t know it was ACORN, not that I would have understood the implication of that at the time.
I’m no friend of Advocate, but basically SEIU and ACORN were accusing Advocate of good business practices.
According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Feb. 20, 2004:
SEIU and other unions … have launched campaigns around the country aiming to organize hospital employees.
The campaigns often use unconventional methods, such as issuing reports that call attention to a hospital’s shortcomings. …
Because I was no friend of Advocate, hadn’t been following ACORN–SEIU’s menacing shakedown tactics, and didn’t (and still don’t) understand the depth and breadth of their political influence, I was pleased we shared the same goal to keep Advocate from expanding.
So I introduced myself to SEIU organizer Joseph Geevarghese, saying I was glad we were on the same side.
Joseph said perhaps we could join forces. He was also working with a church organizer, he said.
Joseph organized a meeting between the three of us at SEIU. I’ve always remembered the Obama sign in a window at the SEIU office, an added reminder of how common goals can create strange bedfellows. This was during Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign. As state senator, Obama had spearheaded opposition to the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which protects babies aborted alive.
Pro-lifers decided we would launch a postcard campaign among area churches to “Say NO to Advocate. Say YES to St. Francis.” Joseph wasn’t thrilled with the “YES to St. Francis” part but offered to fund our project.
Long story short, our hard work paid off and we kept Advocate out, so we thought, although we weren’t happy the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board also voted St. Francis down.
A couple years later it was learned – surprise – the IHFPB was corrupt. In October 2006 IHFPB board member Stuart Levine and Obama pal Tony Rezko were indicted in part for conspiring to manipulate IHFPB decisions in exchange for bribes.
I have grown to think basically every governmental decision in Illinois is made for nefarious reasons.
Which brings me to last week. As the media started spending more time on ACORN, I realized it was connected to SEIU. I recognized some of its tactics.
I wondered if I had held on to that Advocate–SEIU file, now five years old. Reviewing it might be enlightening, I thought.
I did, and it was. I had kept pretty much everything – SEIU’s Hospital Accountability Project newsletters, my invoices, and letters.
The Winter 2003 SEIU Hospital Accountability Project newsletter featured the front page story, “State Senate launches inquiry of Advocate Health Care’s predatory collection practices”:
Unsatisfied with Advocate Health Care’s response to charges of predatory collections, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, led by Sen. Barack Obama, vowed Oct. 22 to seek answers from the hospital chain. …
Among the many community, religious and government officials who testified were Lt. Gov. [now governor] Pat Quinn. …
Another article, “Attorney general launches probe of hospital price gouging,” reported:
Responding to recent reports about price gouging and predatory collections by Advocate Health Care and other hospitals, Attorney General Lisa Madigan opened an inquiry into hospital billing practices Oct. 23. …
The investigation comes on the heels of an inquiry launched Oct. 22 by the Illinois Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, led by Sen. Barack Obama.
Over the years, SEIU local and national groups have contributed $223,460 to Lisa Madigan’s campaigns.
SEIU entities have contributed $112,450 to Lisa’s father, Michael, speaker of the Illinois House and chairman of the Illinois Democrat Party, to which SEIU has contributed $521,800.
SEIU has given Quinn $67,000.
And SEIU’s go-to guy Obama? Only $2,750, which to me is more telling than a large amount would be. They were being careful. That said, SEIU has given the Illinois Senate Democratic Fund $246,500.
All of that was to say it should come as no surprise that Illinois is not one of the 20 states now investigating ACORN.
Back to my file. The most interesting finds were letters.
One, dated March 29, 2004, was from state Sen. Barack Obama to the chairman of IHFPB, Tom Beck.
We now know Beck was on the dole for indicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. In 2008 Beck testified under immunity that he gave $1,000 to Rezko in 2003 to ensure the newby governor reappointed him. There’s more on Beck, but I’m already going to be way over my word limit.
The point of Obama’s letter was to steer IHFPB away from Advocate. Obama wrote:
The Illinois Senate Health and Human Services Committee [which Obama didn’t mention he chaired] opened an inquiry into aggressive hospital pricing and collection policies, paying particular attention to the business practices of Advocate Health Care. …
I urge … IHFPB to examine hospital pricing and debt collection policies, as well as the provision of charity care, as you determine whether or not to award permits for new hospital construction in our state.
In February 2004, Obama took a step further. According to the Spring 2004 Hospital Accountability Project newsletter:
After conducting hearings in the fall, Sen. Obama introduced SB2579, which requires hospitals to provide free and reduced-price health care for low-income uninsured patients, to curb predatory debt collections practices, and to publicize the availability of charity care.
That effort failed, but he tried.
Another letter I found was from Trinity United Church of Christ’s senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, to all UCCs in Chicagoland, dated March 3, 2004. One of Advocate’s two religious affiliates is the United Church of Christ.
In his letter Wright encouraged churches to pass a resolution calling on Advocate to:
… proclaim a Hospital Jubilee in which they agree to: … end discriminatory pricing, … end predatory debt collections, … forgive unjust medical debt … implement automatic charity care, … [and] respect their worker’s right to a free and fair union election process.
Wright enclosed a four-page Hospital Jubilee brochure drawing out those points – authored by SEIU’s Hospital Accountability Project.
SEIU and ACORN have done so much more to terrorize Advocate for resisting unionization. They have endangered the health and safety of Advocate patients. Here’s just one example, one of the more egregious. The Daily Southtown reported on Dec. 22, 2005:
The union denies that ferrying people in groups to emergency rooms is part of the Care For All strategy. But the SEIU-affiliated ACORN has been transporting small groups of people beyond their own communities to Advocate hospitals.
In so many words ACORN and SEIU have admitted to what I consider extortion. Wade Rathke, founder of ACORN, wrote this on his blog on Dec. 9, 2005, about a board meeting:
Joseph Geevarghese of SEIU’s Hospital Accountability Project that has been focusing on the Advocate chain in the city gave a detailed report on the four years of this effort and the results in moving increased accountability, charity care, and other reforms at the hospital. 70,000 hospital workers are in the market and such an effort once again reminds organizers of SEIU’s discipline in hunkering down to develop winning programs.
About SEIU’s part in fighting Advocate’s expansion, the Daily Southtown reported Feb. 8, 2004:
… [T]he expected public information campaign [is] likely to recognize that the union has been trying since last year to organize workers at all of Advocate’s Chicago-area hospitals, Joseph Geevarghese, director of SEIU’s Hospital Accountability Project, said.
“Part of the issues we plan to raise is that Advocate is not recognizing its employees’ right to organize,” Geevarghese said. …
The union plans to launch a website and will purchase advertisements in the coming weeks in local newspapers.
Edward Domansky, a spokesman for … Advocate … [said], “I’m not aware of it, but you need to see through all of this and realize that SEIU’s intent is all about trying to organize 25,000 Advocate employees. …”
Aside from the scandal of the Advocate shakedown involving ACORN, SEIU, Obama and other Illinois elected officials, I think there is an aspect to this story that relates to the current health-care battle.
SEIU national President Andy Stern issued what I would otherwise have thought was a strange, almost irrational statement on Sept. 18:
As has always happened when progressive change is in the air, the backlash gets fierce, ugly and anti-American. This time is no different. …
These extremists will attempt to shut down and shout down anyone with a different point of view.
Let’s be clear who we are talking about – call them attack dogs, call them Teabaggers, call them Glenn Beck – these are the same folks who make up lies about death panels to try to kill health-care reform. Who scream about democracy while denying workers a voice on the job. …
Their lies, their stunts and their smears will not silence us. …
We are going to make sure health care is affordable and accessible for every man, woman and child in this country. … We are going to make sure workers get a voice on the job.
I’m quite sure part of Obama and the SEIU’s long-term plan is to unionize every American health-care entity.
And thuggery toward that end doesn’t bother them.