Preckwinkle blasted in Black community for the termination of Cook County’s top doctor and the closing of the emergency room of Provident Hospital during the coronavirus pandemic
By Hermene D. Hartman
Dr. Terry Mason last week was relieved of his duties as the chief operating officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health. Debra Carey, Interim CEO of the Cook County Health and Hospitals Systems, fired him.
This is the work of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who said, “Mason was terminated. It’s a personnel matter and I don’t comment on personnel matters.” She thanked Mason for his seven years of service.
So, when did interims start firing executives?
Preckwinkle said the same thing when pressed by a Crusader reporter on Tuesday, April 7 during a press conference where she talked about her $10 million assistance program for small businesses.
When the reporter asked a second time why Mason was fired, Preckwinkle was silent for several seconds and said “That’s all I have to say about that.”
Sources told the Crusader that before he was fired, Mason had a candid conversation with Reverend Dr. Otis Moss of Trinity United Church of Christ in Princeton Park, where he revealed information and facts that contradicted what government officials were telling the public.
N’DIGO the African American lifestyle online publication and the Crusader have made multiple requests for information from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
When the Crusader informed Preckwinkle of the problem, she promised to have her Director of Communications, Nick Shields, help resolve the problem. The Crusader made several follow up calls to Shields after speaking with him on Tuesday, but he never responded. The Crusader and N’DIGO’S requests to the Medical Examiner’s Office remain unfulfilled.
During an interview with WVON on Sunday, Mason did not comment on his termination. But the people of Cook County are owed a real explanation from Madame Preckwinkle. Dr. Terry Mason has been an integral and exemplary part of the Chicago and Cook County health scene for decades.
By training, he is a urologist who was on call at Michael Reese and Mercy Hospitals in addition to his private practice. He developed a specialty service for male erectile dysfunction and prostate cancer.
Mason left a lucrative private practice to devote time to public service. He has served as the Commissioner of Health for the City of Chicago, responsible for over 1,200 employees and with an annual operating budget of about $200 million dollars.
He is an advocate of healthy living with instructions on how to do so through his lectures in churches, community organizations, colleges, health forums, and hotel conference rooms. He is sought after nationwide for advice and consultation on health/medical matters.
His love is what he labels as “community medicine.” He has held a stellar record as a medic from a practicing doctor to public administration, so how do you fire this top-notch world-class doctor at a time of an unknown medical crisis that has created havoc worldwide?
Preckwinkle has a reputation for being a mean, vindictive politician, but she owes the public an explanation as to why Mason was fired and what the County is doing in this time of the emergency coronavirus crisis.
The county board sets policy and laws for the county regarding public health services, and the President should be leading the way. Where is Preckwinkle’s daily press conference?
Since the virus is still weeks from peaking in Illinois, not only is it curious that the esteemed Mason was fired under suspicious circumstances but Chicagoans question why he needed to be fired at this time of crisis, when Governor Pritzker is urgently calling for medical personnel, young and old, retired and working, to come to the aid of patients in the State of Illinois who may be affected by this terrifying disease.
Preckwinkle’s judgment is being publically questioned not only regarding the Mason firing, but also in the closing of Provident Hospital’s Emergency Room.
The ER closes at a time when the virus makes available hospital beds premium real estate.
Preckwinkle told the Crusader that Provident Hospital remains open, but that the emergency room is closed after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandated hospitals to suspend elective surgeries and that a medical official tested positive for the virus.
She also said the configuration of the emergency room prevents one from practicing social distancing.
The hospital should be virus ready as it sits across the park from the University of Chicago Medical Center, where a joint venture awaits.
What is Cook County Hospital, one of the world’s largest, doing to accommodate virus patients? Could not the old building be readied and made available for an overflow of patients?
If McCormick Place could be turned into an “operating medical edifice” in five days, what could the old County Hospital do or become? If other closed hospitals can be reopened and repurposed, why couldn’t the old Cook County Hospital?
And what is being done with Stroger Hospital with its 450 beds that have served the county’s indigenous community for the past 180 years? Is it virus-ready?
This is crucial to know since African Americans account for 30 percent of the coronavirus cases in Illinois, according to Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
According to early data analyzed by WBEZ, while Black residents make up only 23 percent of the population of Cook County, they account for 58 percent of the COVID-19 deaths. And half of the deceased lived in Chicago, according to data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.
As of Saturday, April 4, 107 of Cook County’s 183 deaths from COVID-19 were Black. In Chicago, 61 of the 86 recorded deaths – or 70 percent – were Black residents. Blacks make up 29 percent of Chicago’s population.
Preckwinkle seems absent from the process and procedure.
She did not appear at the transformation of McCormick Place with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Governor J.B. Pritzker. She was absent. Why did she not participate with them? Is this political minutia?
I am publically questioning Preckwinkle’s judgement in regards to the dismissal of Dr. Mason and the shut-down of the emergency room at Provident Hospital.
Poor judgment, it seems to me.
I am asking for a public explanation as to why Dr. Terry Mason was fired and you cannot hide behind the “this is a personnel matter” mask. This is a public health matter and this is not the time to abort your duties.
Hermene Hartman is publisher of N’DIGO, an online African American lifestyle publication. Crusader Journalist Erick Johnson contributed to this report.