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This Chicago hospital shows why African Americans are suffering more from COVID-19

Read the original story from the Chicago Tribune.

Congress has appropriated roughly $175 billion so far to help hospitals and other health care providers weather the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. But some are still struggling to keep up with the need, and racial disparities in the American health care system are magnifying the problem. William Brangham talks to Tim Egan and Lynette Houston of Chicago’s Roseland Community Hospital.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congress has appropriated roughly $175 billion so far to help hospitals and other health care providers weather the consequences of this COVID pandemic.

    But some hospitals are struggling to keep up, and racial disparities in the American health care system are magnifying the problem.

    William Brangham is back with our latest conversation he recorded earlier from the front lines of this crisis.

  • William Brangham:

    We go now to the city of Chicago, a city that's dealing with its own rising outbreak, and one small hospital on the city's South Side, Roseland Community Hospital, and how it is struggling to keep up.

    The front-page story in The Chicago Tribune recently said it all: "Outgunned, outmanned and underfunded."

    I'm joined now by Roseland's president and CEO, Tim Egan, and by the manager of its emergency room, Lynette Houston.

    Thank you both very much for being here.

    Tim Egan, to you first.

    For those of us who can't see inside your hospital and see what you all see every single day, can you just give us a picture of what it's like in there now?

  • Tim Egan:

    Well, our emergency department has been overrun.

    We have 19 bays and our E.D., and, right now, you can find gurneys at the nurses station, patients being treated right in the middle of the hallways. The demand for our service has been overwhelming.

    But we have been meeting that demand. And it's why we say it's a bright hope during dark chaos. We're giving people a chance to recover from this disease. We're giving the best treatment possible.

    And I just can't commend our staff enough. Folks like Lynette, our doctors, our EVS, everyone is stepping to the front lines and delivering the care that people need.

  • William Brangham:

    And, Tim, staying with you for a second, could you just give us a sense of who your patient population is?

  • Tim Egan:

    Well, the New Roseland Hospital's on the far South Side of the city of Chicago. We're the last hospital within the city limits on the far South Side.

    We're in the greater Roseland community. And 96 percent of our residents are African-American, and over 87 percent of our patients are Medicaid patients.

  • William Brangham:

    And, Lynette, the same question to you as I asked Tim.

    We can't see inside your emergency room or your ICU. Can you give us a snapshot of what it's like, the kinds of patients that you're seeing there?

  • Lynette Houston:

    The kind of patients that we're seeing here is patients who are coming in suspecting that they have been infected by the virus.

    We have a 19-bed E.R., where we have other rooms where we can improvise and put those patients there, which will come up to like 22 beds.

    But we're — now we're also using beds around the nursing station, where we can put at least eight beds around the nursing station. These people are coming in, and they're sick. They're sick.

    And I know the news says, stay home and try to take care of yourself at home. But these are people who use the emergency room as their primary physician, because a lot of people in this area don't have their own primary. So the emergency room is their primary doctor, where they come here for services.

  • William Brangham:

    We hear, Tim, a lot of these — that Congress is passing billions of dollars out to the states and to businesses to try to keep them afloat.

    Are you getting help from the state to help offset some of these costs that you're incurring?

  • Tim Egan:

    So we have seen some federal aid that came from the payroll protection program.

    But we're after — we're seeking many more grants. We need more support. We have tested 10,000 folks who've come down to our hospital for COVID-19 testing. You know, the Roseland community is 7 percent of the population of the city of Chicago, and, right now, we're 16 percent of the COVID-19 deaths.

    That showcases the disparity in the funding of health care that has happened over decades in the city of Chicago. While I have seen Medicaid dollars flood out to resources in the suburbs, to multibillion-dollar corporations, hospitals like Roseland have been underfunded.

    You know, when I said on the front page of The Chicago Tribune we were outgunned, outmanned and underfunded, I meant it. We don't have the resources. We don't have a reserve of funding that we can use to buy new equipment and hire more staff.

    And that's because of this woeful lack of funding that we have received over many, many years.

  • William Brangham:

    Lynette Houston, Tim is describing a situation that sounds like a terrible circumstance for the staff that has to work in — day in and day out.

    I mean, obviously, the stress of this kind of work, in a contagious environment, where people are worried obviously about themselves getting infected, and yet it sounds like you're having to work incredibly long hours just to meet this demand.

    How is everybody holding up?

  • Lynette Houston:

    My staff is really tremendous.

    I take my hat off to them, because this — it's really — it can be sometimes overwhelming. But, sometimes, we go into chats where we try to laugh. We try to, you know, not look at the other side of it, which is the dark side, because, sometimes, we do lose people.

    The numbers of the deaths is rising. And it has happened here also. And those families cannot be with their loved ones. So, it doesn't make our day easy, but we have to keep moving forward. We have to keep fighting. And my nurses are really tremendous. The ICU nurses are really tremendous.

  • William Brangham:

    It certainly sounds like it.

    Lynette, I understand you haven't had a chance to see as much of your family personally as you would like to.

  • Lynette Houston:

    I haven't. I haven't.

    I don't — my daughter doesn't live here, but I normally you go see them every weekend. I don't go, because I don't want to go around them right now.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • William Brangham:

    Because you're worried about infection?

  • Lynette Houston:

    Yes.

    But it's not only me. It's my whole staff. I have one employee that lives in the garage now. I have one employee who moved out of her house because she didn't want to be around her mom, who is sick, who has a condition where it's compromised. So, she don't want to be — so, it's not only me.

    It's — the sacrifice that we're making, it's a whole group effort. So, no, we haven't seen our families.

  • William Brangham:

    Tim Egan, you have said that you have been complaining about the underfunding of hospitals like yours for years, even before the pandemic.

    Do you think that this crisis will actually be the thing that finally wakes people up to the importance of community hospitals, to rural hospitals, to small health centers like yours?

  • Tim Egan:

    I'm praying to God that it is.

    The number of deaths in the African-American community due to COVID-19 is a call for hope, a desperate call for hope, that we finally get the decision-makers to realize that communities like Roseland deserve an investment in the health care services.

    These folks are dying because they have comorbidities. Folks are dying because they have quad-morbidities. That's because we're not — we don't have the ability to treat folks when they were at their earliest onset of diseases, like asthma, COPD, heart disease, obesity.

    We need funding for programs, for primary care programs, for outreach to these folks, to get them on a path of wellness and overall health. And without funding that is absolutely available, we won't be able to do that. And you will just see more disparity in the deaths in the African-American community, without that desperately needed funding.

  • William Brangham:

    Tim Egan and Lynette Houston of Roseland Hospital on the South Side of Chicago, thank you both very, very much for talking with us.

    And good luck with all of your work out there.

  • Lynette Houston:

    Thank you.

  • Tim Egan:

    Thank you. I appreciate it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And one other note: This is National Nurses Week.

    We want to give a special thanks to Lynette Houston for speaking with us and a shout-out to all the nurses working on the front lines of hospitals, clinics, and health care providers around the country.

    Thank you.

    More than 100 nurses in the U.S. have died since the pandemic began. That's according to National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the country.

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