August 23, 2008

Michelle Obama Oversaw Contentious Program

Michelle Obama's job at the University of Chicago Medical Center included responsibility for a program to steer the uninsured away from its emergency room.

The wife of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is now on leave from her position. She was earning $317,000 a year as vice president of the hospital.

Some top Obama advisers are also involved with the Urban Health Initiative, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Dr. Eric Whitaker took over the program when the hospital hired him in 2007, and the hospital contracted with a company owned by David Axelrod, Barack Obama's top strategist, for a public relations campaign.

Another Obama adviser, Valerie Jarrett, heads the medical center's board and approved the hiring of Whitaker's company.

Hospital officials say uninsured patients seeking treatment for minor illness and injury were overwhelming the emergency room. The program tried to find doctors in the neighborhood for those patients and says they will get faster treatment elsewhere.

"Senator Obama sees community health centers as a vital part of efforts to invest in prevention and reduce costs," said Ben LaBolt, a spokesman..

Chicago Alderman Toni Preckwinkle said some doctors and nurses have complained to her that the medical center is dumping patients.