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Michelle Obama, David Axelrod and the University of Chicago Medical School

POSTED: 10:52 AM ET, 08/22/2008 by The Editors

The Post's Joe Stephens reports today about the many ties between Barack and Michelle Obamaand the University of Chicago and its medical school. Michelle is currently taking a leave from her $317,000-a-year post as vice president of community and external relations to work on her husband's campaign.

At the medical center, one of her signature efforts has been working to relieve crowding in the emergency room, where visits have increased 14 percent in three years. Crowding of emergency rooms, particularly with the poor and uninsured, is an intractable and costly social problem that confronts many large urban hospitals. It also raises questions about how much care large, tax-exempt nonprofit hospitals like the University of Chicago should devote to the poor in the surrounding neighborhoods.

To deal with these issues, the medical center launched an Urban Health Initiative aimed at lessening overcrowding by directing people to nearby health clinics. To help promote the effort, the medical center in December 2006, on the recommendation of Michelle Obama and others at the center, hired ASK Public Strategies, a public relations firm co-owned by David Axelrod, who would soon become Barack Obama's chief campaign strategist.

Opinion research commissioned as part of the effort showed that primary care doctors opposed the Urban Health Initiative as a break with the medical center's commitment to the community. Some doctors dismissed the local health clinics as "wholly inadequate."

To sell the initiative to the public, Axelrod's firm recommended an aggressive effort modeled on a political campaign, with a campaign manager, focus groups, messages targeted to specific constituencies and third-party "validators" who could promote the project to the media.

Some of the recommendations appear to have been adopted and others were not. Medical center officials say it is too soon to evaluate the initiative's success. Neither Michelle Obama nor Axelrod agreed to speak to Stephens for the article.

By The Editors |  August 22, 2008; 10:52 AM ET
Previous: Report: Federal Helium Program Full of Hot Air | Next: Picks of the Week: Milwaukee Schools Spending, Border Tracking, and Child Hunting Deaths

Comments

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I guess the records are sealed just as they are are Obama's college records of his highly devoted work for the poor people that involved William Ayes, the terrorist.

Posted by: dragonfly777 | August 22, 2008 12:59 PM

Overcrowding in urban hospitals is a serious problem... at least she didn't steal prescription drugs from her own charity.

Posted by: longwalksinparis.blogspot.com | August 23, 2008 10:28 AM

McCain's role in the Keating5 S&L debacle cost taxpayers $10 bn.

Posted by: longwalksinparis.blogspot.com | August 23, 2008 10:34 AM

The idea that people in the local community should go to a primary doctor instead of coming to the emergency room for things like colds is not revolutionary. Trying to expand primary care in the community is a necessity for making health care more affordable for everyone. It costs a lot more money to treat simple things like colds in a local care center instead of paying for emergency room time that costs 10x as much. Expanding primary care is the way other countries outside of the united states spend less money on healthcare per person AND have healthier citizens. As much as some people found the health initiative to be controversial, it is the direction health-care around the country NEEDS to go in to stay viable.

Posted by: Medical Student At University of Chicago. | August 23, 2008 4:42 PM

To improve access and quality of health care services in the South side community, it is critical, as the university's Urban Health Initiative has set out to do, to create a coordinated network of health care providers.

The university should be commended for this initiative, not attacked or, as seems to be the case in Mr. Stephens' article, exploited for political ends.

This university, throughout its distinguished history, has given the world such important medical advances as organ transplantation, chemotherapy, and cancer genetics. It created the field of social work, through the pioneering contributions of Edith Abbott, Breckinridge, Grace Abbott, and others, thereby putting the improvement of the lives of the disadvantaged at the very center of the most rigorous inquiry.

I hope that it continues, notwithstanding the innuendos in the article, to seek resolutely for a solution to one of our most pressing problems.

Posted by: a concerned citizen | August 24, 2008 2:10 AM

Why did a tax-exempt non-profit organization spend hundreds of thousands of salary dollars and untold thousands on an outside political campaigning firm for what to most would be ordinary common sense? If the emergency room could not handle all the patients, urge them to go to nearby community health clinics.

A lot of pork went through the barrel here, apparently fostered by Michelle getting her husband's campaign managers paid off, unless she and Axelrod would like to come out in the open and explain and answer questions about it.

Posted by: reformthesystem | August 24, 2008 8:23 AM

Why all the fuss over using an outside PR firm to perform market research, run focus groups/media campaigns/make recommendations, etc.? This isn't a case of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal gain, lining the pockets of cronies or other nefarious schemes. This is how business is conducted - regardless of the industry - in order to ensure limited resources are invested wisely ... especially for non-profit organizations. Urban Health Initiatives are being considered all over the country, regardless of geography or demographics. Why?

Because 45 Million people don't have adequate, if any, health insurance and, when their conditions get bad enough they show up in Emergency Rooms. This is just the tip of the iceberg, the 10% seen above the water line, which explains why the average ER visit takes eight hours to be seen. Unless you truly have a life-threatening medical emergency; then you'll be seen right away. Unless, of course, the ER is completely congested with non-emergent, chronically-ill patients who ought to be seen at a local community health center. Therein lies the Catch-22.

University of Chicago Health System is a world-class healthcare organization with state-of-the-art physicians, nursing staff, research and development of emerging technology, training programs and an array of other quality characteristics which sets it apart from 95% of America's hospitals, let alone academic medical centers.

The Urban Health Initiative is studying relationships, strategies and possible solutions to problems experienced by 95% of America's hospitals ... without access to finding answers on their own. What will the U of C Health System do with the findings of ASK's research? Share it - through publishing, presentations and, as often is the case - shape national policy-making decisions for the betterment of mankind ... just like the U of C mission, vision and values of its founders, funders, friends and family-members of its current employees, faculty and students.

Don't be so quick to rush to judgment here. This isn't another insider-trading story to feed the rumor-mongers, et al. If anything, this is a story that SHOULD BE told ... just do it right, that's all.

Posted by: Tom LeClair | August 24, 2008 4:44 PM

The editors couldn't bring themselves to say what the real problem is for urban emergency rooms -- illegal immigrants demanding, and receiving, free medical care paid for by American citizens.

Posted by: eve | August 25, 2008 9:39 AM

here's a novel Idea.Let's hire Ken starr,and give him power to subpoena everyone and anyone ,then shoot off in every direction and an open checkbook of taxpayers moneyy again.

Posted by: pinkydink53 | August 25, 2008 10:38 AM

If the Post did a true investigation, they'd see the University of Chicago Medical School - in part because of its location near underserved areas - does more than any academic medical center like its kind - but instead, a non-story story appears casting doubt on a hospital who serves far too many who shouldn't have to come to its ER if adequate care existed elsewhere. No mention of not-as-prestigous Northwestern and fact it sits in high rent area with little-to-no help for poor yet maintains a tax-free "non-profit" status. Who cares if Alexrod was hired (before campaign btw) - if i could hire him, I would too. Too bad the Post can't find real story to go after

Posted by: whatthehay? | August 26, 2008 1:08 AM

More interesting, look into the connections between Axelrod, Obama and Exelon -- Obama's biggest corporate supporter and the nation's leading nuclear energy producer. It's not pretty ... and largeely unreported. Axelrod and Obama carry water by the gallon for Exelon.

Posted by: Chicago hack | August 27, 2008 11:04 AM

oh how frigging cozy

Posted by: jrzshor | August 27, 2008 1:12 PM

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