An account of how a large Catholic medical center has lost its way. Go to to see recent updates.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Picketing OSF

Picketing OSF—January, 2003

My brother and I met with Monsignor Rohlfs and Patricia Gibson in his office in December, 2002. They dictated a letter that my brother transcribed (in his Franklin Planner) requesting a petition for a Catholic tribunal court against OSF. This is a Church court that does not seek a financial settlement. It searches for the truth and Bishop Jenky would be the judge. I thought there were significant issues related to OSF that were pastoral care issues that the Bishop should address. At one point earlier in the year, Patricia Gibson stated that Monsignor Rohlfs was shocked with what was going on at OSF and Haitian Hearts was minor on their list of infractions. However, we were confused when Monsignor Rohlfs asked us if we needed any help with Haitian Hearts. We wondered why he had asked.

Even though OSF administration had withdrawn all of their economic support of Haitian Hearts on July 12, 2002, Haitian Hearts had been able to raise 445,000 dollars for Children’s Hospital of Illinois. Paul Kramer, executive director of CHOI had advised us not to build a house to sell, but we did anyway. After the house sold, Kramer badgered us for the money verbally and with letters. We donated all of the house funds (177,000 dollars) to CHOI in December, 2002, like we said we would. (Paul Kramer even made the comment, when he was asking the house contractor for the money, that there was no such thing as “Haitian Hearts”. This statement would become very important as I will document in another post.)

In December, not long after Monsignor Rohlfs question regarding Haitian Hearts, I received a certified letter in the mail from Doug Marshall, OSF’s attorney. The letter stated that OSF had called the American Consulate in Haiti (Paul Kramer, Director of Children's Hospital of Illinois, made the call), and advised the American Consulate not to grant more visas for sick Haitian kids to come to OSF for heart surgery.

I was in disbelief that Kramer and OSF would do this. Our fund raising efforts were excellent, even after I was fired at OSF. The community believed in Haitian Hearts and the good we were (and still are) trying to do. Sister Judith Ann had told me a number of times that OSF “would never turn down a child”. Now Haitian kids were going to die. OSF (Chris Lofgren) had told the Journal Star immediately after I was fired that Haitian Hearts would do just fine. But OSF cut all of their funding for Haitian kids 6 months later and called the American Consulate to stop visas for kids to travel. This did not seem just fine to us.

I needed to do something, but what? There were no checks and balances at OSF, in my opinion, and the foxes were running the hen house. The sisters were definitely not in control. Haitian kids were going to die. I decided to picket OSF, an action that seemed so foreign to me, it was appalling. Even though the Haitian kids had great support from within the medical center from the doctors, nurses, social workers, custodians, and many other people, OSF’s administration was doing all they could to keep Haitian kids outside the walls of the hospital. I thought their behavior was especially egregious.

On a cold Sunday morning, January 7, 2003, I drove to a place that makes signs. In the car, I decided the sign should say, “OSF Administration: Respect for Life Includes Haitians”. The guy at the sign company charged me nothing for the sign. His contempt for OSF and their actions was obvious.

Getting out of the car that morning was cold, lonely, and very painful. I did not want to picket the hospital that I loved and had worked at for 21 years. As the hours went by, the media appeared and did interviews regarding the signs and OSF’s actions that prompted my action. Patricia Gibson, the Canon Law Lawyer for the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, came to my mom’s house and stayed for several hours and commented that my picketing was the right thing to do.

My brother joined me in front of the hospital and as we picketed on the sidewalk, OSF panicked inside. They called the Peoria Police who did nothing. They sent the OSF chief of security (who is a friend of mine since high school) outside and he invited me inside. I politely declined. About all OSF could do at that point was to spin the truth again. Chris Lofgren, the hospital spokesman, told the Journal Star that Haitian Hearts owed OSF 500,000 dollars. They essentially made up this figure to make me look as bad as possible since I was questioning OSF’s respect for life policy. (Questioning their respect for life philosophy was to come back and haunt them in the next couple of years as they abandoned and rejected Willie Fortune, Faustina Jacques, and Jackson Jean-Baptiste, who died, due to OSF’s abandonment. I also learned a significant amount how OSF and the Catholic Diocese of Peoria worked together regarding oral contraceptives at OSF and their disrespect for the culture of life that OSF professes to have.)

Over the next couple of days in the media OSF changed the figure regarding what Haitian Hearts owed them multiple times. That had to be embarrassing for them. They brought it down to less than 400,000 dollars and then had Dr. Rick Pearl tell the Journal Star that our “debt was forgiven”. (Over the previous few years, Dr. Pearl had asked me multiple times in private to “bring me some Haitian kids to operate on”. I had asked him to go to administration and ask them to help out with these patients, but I was sure he wouldn’t because he did not want to inflame administration asking them to operate on more Haitian kids.)

We had requested itemized bills in the fall of 2002 of the Haitian kids that were operated and OSF did not comply. OSF’s record keeping was sloppy, they spent over 20,000 dollars of Haitian Hearts money on an ultrasound probe, and a physician that had donated many hours of overtime hours to Haitian Hearts never showed up on the Haitian Heart donor list over several years.

Caterpillar Foundation was generously donating 10,000 dollars each year for the Haitian kids which showed up on the donor list. However, on April 15, 2001, the OSF Haitian Hearts donor list showed that we were given credit for only 500 dollars from Caterpillar. Where did the other 9,500 dollars go? (Henry Holling, Director of Caterpillar Foundation called me AFTER I was fired and told me that Caterpillar still wanted to continue donating to Haitian Hearts. I was and still am very appreciative of Mr. Holling's offer.)

When Haitian Hearts calculated what we owed OSF after I picketed, it appeared that our balance was close to zero even with Keith Steffen cutting away all OSF economic support 6 months earlier (July 12, 2002).

Subsequent to my picketing, OSF placed Haitian Hearts on “suspension”. The day after picketing the OSF, I left for Haiti and OSF requested a meeting with the Journal Star editorial board and the Catholic Diocese of Peoria. Chris Lofgren described the situation as a "public relations nightmare for OSF". Haitian Hearts was not invited. No one from the media heard our story at all. The cards were stacked against Haitian Hearts as we advocated for the Haitian kids while others were trying to destroy the program.

The decision was made for Bishop Jenky to “take over” the program. Those of us in Haitian Hearts were worried that Bishop Jenky would not stand up enough to OSF and that Haitian kids would be left behind to die.

No comments:

Blog Archive