The New Cook County Hospital


The new Cook County Hospital, named after Cook County Board President John H. Stroger Jr. and located at 1901 W. Harrison St., opened its doors for service in December 2002. The new hospital covers 1.2 million square feet, or one-and-one-half city blocks in length, and replaces the old Cook County Hospital. The new hospital cost $551 million and was designed and built to be a more modern facility that would be better equipped to use up-to-date technology and equipment, according to Cook County officials.

The Cook County Board decided that the old Cook County Hospital, built in 1914, would cost too much to renovate and wasn’t designed to operate with today’s modern technology. The name for the new hospital was unanimously voted on by the Cook County Board after longtime civil rights activist Jesse L. Jackson Sr. made a pitch.
“Jesse Jackson felt that with this new hospital opening, this would be a much more appropriate way to really recognize (Stroger) for all the work they he’s done,” said Rendy Jones, director of communications for the Cook County Bureau of Health Services.

The John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County stands eight stories tall with a basement level. It holds 464 beds total, 50 or so less beds than the old facility was designed to hold. Hospital officials explained that today’s advanced technology has produced a decrease in inpatients and hospital stays as compared to almost a century ago, when the old hospital was built.

The old hospital had wards that contained up to 29 beds per ward. The new hospital has private and semi-private rooms for inpatient stay instead of wards. Each room has a private bath, unlike the old wards where the patients all shared one bathroom. And each patient has a television and telephone in their room.

Standing outside the new building, it’s obvious there is a lot more window area than there was in the old building. The large windows of the new facility don’t open but serve a more aesthetic purpose, whereas the windows in the old hospital served mostly to allow natural air in when it was too hot in the building.

The new building has a temperature control system and there’s no need for those gigantic fans that were used in the old building to cool the waiting area but really only circulated hot air. The emergency room, appropriately located on the first floor, is 1/3 larger than the old one, and has 75 treatment spaces. The first floor is also designed with large rooms for the specialty care clinics that will be transferred from Fantus Clinic in the near future. Most of the outpatient or ambulatory clinics will be on the first two floors.
The upper floors are for inpatients.

One of the most important changes, according to Rendy Jones, is that now all the labor, delivery and pediatric care are on one floor. Now a mother can be closer to her child than she was in the old hospital. Mothers can have their newborns in the same room with them now.

Jones also praised the burn unit. “It’s one of very few burn units in the city that are verified burn units,” she said. There are several waiting areas throughout the hospital’s eight stories, and patients will appreciate the larger cafeteria, which seats 500 people comfortably.

Some of the new advanced technology used includes a nurses call system for patients to communicate with their nurses. And now, doctors can access x-rays and film records instantaneously via computer. In the old hospital, someone would have to bring those items to the doctors. Also, prescriptions will be handled by robot-like machines, filling prescriptions much faster than the old way, by hand.

The new hospital has a connecting parking garage. Formerly, patients would scramble to find a place to park near the hospital. Mostly, patients would park blocks away and have to walk the distance to the hospital. Now they can park in the adjacent parking garage for a nominal fee if they have an appointment.

There are wheelchairs for the patients who need them to get them to the hospital, which is accessible to persons with disabilities with automatic doors. The old hospital doors were heavy and someone would have to hold the doors open for people in wheelchairs.

Fantus Clinic, one of 30 community health centers provided by the Cook County Bureau of Health Services, will remain standing and open for primary care services. The old Cook County Hospital as well as the Cook County Children’s Hospital will be torn down in the near future.

Why the Wait?
The biggest complaint about the old Cook County Hospital was the long wait – the wait to be seen by a doctor, and the wait to pick up medication. Will these problems be remedied in the new hospital?

Some patients say they don’t expect it. They had experienced being in the new John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital and said they didn’t see much of a difference. The new John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County is in a transition period. The new hospital, open now for less than two months, is making adjustments and the waiting time isn’t shorter yet. In fact, it might seem longer.

Larry Ekster, 53, said he’d waited for almost 24 hours in the new emergency room. He said he’d brought his wife in at 7 p.m. the day before and she wasn’t called until 3 p.m. the next day. A 72-year-old woman who wanted her name withheld said she had waited 4 hours. She said she thought she would be seen quicker since she was hemorrhaging. She said she expected the wait to be shorter at the new hospital.

But V.J., 42, of the West Side said she’d been over at the old emergency room in Fantus Clinic and was told by a clerk she should come to the hospital because she would be seen faster. She said she waited for 5 hours to be called.

This disabled lady named VJ claimed to have waited over 5 hours before being seen by doctors at the new John Stroger Cook County Hospital. Photo by Clemolyn Brinson

In the old Fantus Clinic emergency room, 25-year-old Unica Parker of the Northwest Side said he’d been advised by someone in the new emergency room to come to the old building to be seen faster. He said he has waited “eight long hours.” He said he’d been seen by a doctor 2 hours ago and was now waiting just to be discharged. He said he didn’t expect the wait to be shorter in the new hospital since he was told it wouldn’t be.
Silva Depass, 43, of 105th Street and Pulaski Avenue, and Elena Kreidals, 50, of the South Side, also said they had waited for four hours. “I usually wait seven to eight hours,” said Kreidals. “I wait 11 to 12 hours if I wait for medication.”

Soon after interviewing her, Kreidals’ name was called. She was happy. Her friend, Silva Depass, said she wasn’t expecting to be home until midnight. She said she’d been told that the wait was long. She expects that the wait at the new hospital will be shorter.
Charlean, 40, of the West Side, also had waited in the Ambulatory Emergency Clinic for five hours already. She said, comparing the two hospitals, “Both of them are full of stuff.”
She said she’d been at the new hospital earlier to discuss a mistake made. She said she expected to be there until one or two in the morning waiting on her medication. “How long can it take to put medicine in a bottle?” she asked. “The people’s attitude in the pharmacy is terrible.”

According to hospital spokesperson Rendy Jones, the wait in the new hospital is due to the transition period. She added that there will be a new and more efficient system of filling prescriptions by a robot-type machine, which will fill about 200 prescriptions an hour – up to four times faster than by hand.

Rendy Jones, director of communications for the Cook County Bureau of Health Services. Photo by Clemolyn Brinson

Jones acknowledged that the long wait at Cook County Hospital has always been a big issue for patients there. Now they can look forward to shorter waits in the waiting rooms and the pharmacy, Jones said.

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