Michelle Obama | AP
Updated: June 11, 2012 10:08AM
WASHINGTON — A University of Chicago Medicine’s health program — once headed by First Lady Michelle Obama when it was created, now run by Dr. Eric Whitaker, close friend of the First Couple — was awarded a $5.9 million grant by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The grant was announced on Tuesday; the U. of C.’s Urban Health Initiative was one of 26 programs winning federal Health Care Innovation grants — funded through President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
The grant will be used to create an electronic database, called a “Community Rx system,” to assist potentially about 200,000 South Side residents — on Medicare, Medicaid or who gets health insurance through the State of Illinois — get linked up with doctors and clinics and other health services near where they live. About 90 jobs are expected to be created through the program for residents of the area.
When Mrs. Obama was an executive at the U. of C. medical center, one of her projects was to find ways to steer uninsured neighborhood patients away from the U. of C. hospital emergency room who were using it for health problems treatable at community health centers.
At the time, in 2006, a public affairs firm founded by David Axelrod — who, wearing another hat was already a top strategist for then Sen. Obama — was hired to help generate local support for the project. Mrs. Obama’s project evolved into the Urban Health Initiative now run by Whitaker.
Susan Sher, former chief of staff for the first lady, is now the executive vice president for corporate strategy and public affairs at the U. of C. Medicine.
HHS said in a release that one of the hoped-for outcomes was “fewer avoidable visits to the emergency room with estimated savings of approximately $6.4 million.”
Cheryl Reed, director of strategic communication for the U. of C. Medicine said, “This grant wouldn’t have been possible if the University hadn’t already created a health network that links people on the South Side to primary care doctors at 32 different community clinics.”