Friday, February 27, 2009

The wait for Cook County health care

Pain scale The pain fluctuates from level 6 (barely tolerable) to 9 (writhe on the floor moaning). Desperate for help, I reach for the phone.
       1 - 3 1 2 - 8 6 4 - 6 6 1 0

Thank you for calling the Ambulatory and Community Health Network Call Center. For English, press 1.


If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and call 911. If you are calling for dental services, press 1. To inquire about a pending referral request, press 2.

Patient direct requests for appointments are accepted only to selected clinics....


This line will allow you to check the appointment status of an IRIS referral you have received from your provider. Please be prepared to copy down your appointment information. Please enter the six-digit referral confirmation number printed on your confirmation form, followed by the pound sign.


This referral request has not yet been processed. Please call back at a later date. Thank you. Goodbye. (Click. Dial tone.)
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Thank you for calling the Ambulatory and Community Health Network Call Center. For English....


... requests for appointments are accepted only to selected clinics. If you are calling about your pregnancy, seeking adult birth control, pediatric general care or lead poisoning, press 3.

All other clinics require a referral from a Cook County physician or a Cook County partner physician. If you have seen a county physician in the past year, you should contact them regarding your medical needs. If you do not have a primary care physician that you can contact and wish to make an appointment with the primary care physician, press 4.

To cancel or reschedule an existing appointment, press 5. For a follow-up appointment and you have been seen by a county physician in the past year, press 6....


(Click. Dial tone.)
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Thank you for calling....

       1 ... 6 ....
I've been through this about 15 times in the last two months. The appointment I need is with a specialist at the Cook County Bureau of Health Services, the only place I can find that I can afford. After a few more disconnects and time on hold, eventually I get to a human. Each one says something different.

The emergency-room doctor who made the referral in December said it would take "a couple of weeks." At first, no one could even tell me if I was even on the list; the couple of weeks must have meant the time to process the referral. The waiting time starts after that. At that point, a call-center operator told me, "It takes 21 days." At three weeks, it became "21 working days."

After that, they just said, "You have to wait." A few times, an operator transferred me to the specialty clinic ... which answers with a recording. The message says someone will call back in three days. It lies. No one ever calls.

Back at No. 6: "It takes six weeks." "It takes six to eight weeks." "You have to wait." From time to time, they advise me that if the pain becomes too bad, to go back to the emergency room. (That's a story for another day.)

Today, I got lucky. For the first time, the operator put me through to the appointment nurse. After only maybe 20 minutes on hold, she answered.

"Oh no," she said. "We're only making appointments for referrals from September 2008."

1 comment:

  1. Cook County Health and Hospitals System is holding a town hall meeting this Thursday, August 13th from 5:30-8pm at Oakton Community College, looking for feedback in how to improve their programs. This would be a great place to share your frustrations!


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