Champaign, Illinois — Here in this agricultural region where the University of Illinois is located, a unique consumer group has been showing the way for almost ten years. Called the Champaign County Health Care Consumers (CCHCC), it is just that — a grass roots community association funded by citizen membership dues and a local door to door canvass which supports an office with ten full-time staff. Its mission: to monitor and change bad health care practices in hospitals, clinics and local and state regulatory agencies. Since my colleague, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Health Research Group, described CCHCC as the “most effective group of its kind in the country,” I was eager to find out more in a late evening meeting recently with about fifteen of its more active participants. They represented the cross-section of the community in terms of the usual demographics. They exuded a rare blend of information, a sense of injustice and self-confidence about improving matters.
A perusal of their monthly publication, Health Care Consumer, explains why hospital administrators in the area brace with irritation at the mere mention of CCHCC. A sample of this patient’s rights group’s agenda is illustrative.
1. Challenging hospitals that discriminate against Medicaid patients; 2. Exposing the inadequate disciplinary action against incompetent physicians by the state licensing review board; 3. Demanding that senior citizens be informed of their rights to appeal to the Peer Review Organizations their early discharge from hospitals under the DRG regulations; 4. Pointing out wasteful competition between local hospitals such as duplicative open-heart surgical centers (the so-called “hospital wars”); 5. Running local health care referendum and testifying at the state capitol; and 6. Involving low-income consumers in the regional Health Systems Agency.
All this activity and more begins to spark others inside the medical establishment to speak out. A long article last month in the Local News Gazette, titled “Unhealthy Hospitals,” and written by Dr. Daniel K. Bloomfield, former dean of the University of Illinois College of Medicine, confirmed many of the stands taken by CCHCC. The doctor wrote: “Contrary to popular wisdom, free-market hospital competition leads to inferior care at higher costs… The rival Champaign-Urbana hospitals waste or misdirect a minimum of $25 million a year.”
Such an authoritative confirmation made Mike Doyle, the long-time executive director of CCHCC, a happier person. Often, citizen groups have to demonstrate, picket and wave their arms noisily to focus attention on problems well known to specialists who remain silent. What Doyle and his associates know is that there is a mass of information and a bouquet of patient rights which have come out of numerous federal and state laws over the years. But they need a delivery system to the people whom they are supposed to benefit.
When citizens, who pay for their health care facilities both as consumers and taxpayers, receive this information about drugs, hospitals, physicians, standards of practice and public health hazards, there is a greater likelihood of change occurring for the better. Informed citizens tend to be more active in their community.
The CCHCC forums and conferences are exciting events, filled with human-interest experiences and involvement. Senior citizen activist, Dorothy Seely, tells her age group to “organize, not agonize,” while other participants document their own devastating experiences with medical malpractice or how the reform they worked for helped a relative.
The challenge is to see how this community health group can be replicated in other localities around the nation. After nearly ten years of activity, CCHCC has learned from its mistakes and knows about what works to keep such a consumer group funded and effective.
Mike Doyle is willing to share knowledge with interested citizens who write him at room 208, 44 Main Street, Champaign, Illinois, 61820. Ask for a copy of his monthly newsletter and enclose a long self-addressed, stamped envelope to help with the mailing expenses.