A limited scope documentary about Chicago's Michael Reese Hospital
   By Arlen Parsa

Why was the Michael Reese Hospital special?

Several reasons:
  • Most hospitals in the United States exist to make a profit for their owners. For more than 100 years until it was bought in 1991, the Michael Reese Hospital existed instead to serve the public, something that has been sorely needed on the South Side for many years.

  • One of Reese's main goals as a nonprofit was to research illnesses and find new treatments and cures for them. For instance, the first ever polio vaccine came out of Michael Reese, as did the Hess Bed, the first incubator for prematurely-born babies.

  • Architecturally, many of the buildings on the Reese campus are considered signifigant enough to be worthy of historical landmark status. Built from the late 1880s to the 1980s, several of the two dozen plus buildings were designed by such architectural luminaries as the revered Walter Gropius.
Why was the Michael Reese Hospital forced to close?

There is no one "magic bullet" reason why the Michael Reese Hospital was forced to close. The 128-year-old hospital was forced to shut its doors due to a "perfect storm" of different factors which made it impossible to stay open. Among these factors are the following main reasons:
  • The hospital, which had traditionally been a non-for-profit institution run by a Jewish charity, was forced to operate under a for-profit model when it was bought by a private company (and subsequently sold to several other private companies). As a result, charity services were retooled to try and make a profit off of its patients.

  • Located on the South Side of Chicago, many of Michael Reese's sick patients were not able to afford the care they received. A substantial number of the hospital's patients relied on government programs like Medicare (for the elderly) and Medicaid (for the poor) to cover their care expenses, but the reimbursement rates that the federal government provides for these has been insufficient for years. This is a problem that hospitals around the country have struggled with, particularly those in urban areas (the uninsured population on Chicago's South Side for instance is twice the national average and is growing).

  • In 2008, the City of Chicago was chosen by the International Olympic Committee as one of four finalists around the world to host the 2016 Summer Games. In order to compete, the city must show that it has the ability to house thousands of athletes and trainers from around the globe in a prospective "Olympic Village." The Michael Reese Hospital sat upon a highly desirable piece of prime lakefront real estate, and in early 2008 it was reported that city officials privately indicated to hospital administrators "that the city will own the land and they want the hospital gone." Some Chicago politicians openly talked about seizing the land using eminent domain if the hospital did not close, and with past situations like Mayor Daley's illegal bulldozing of Meigs' Field, it seemed clear the hospital would have to close whether it liked it or not.
How was this film made?

In early 2008, Arlen Parsa, a documentary film major at Columbia College, received exclusive permission from the CEO of Michael Reese Hospital at the time, Dr Enrique Beckmann, to film inside the hospital. Parsa then worked with the hospital's Comunity Relations officer to find potential subjects for his project. "Waiting for Michael" is the result of spending time with dozens of different hospital employees from approximately spring 2008 through fall (not just the few who are seen in the film).

To see more work by the filmmaker Arlen Parsa visit his official website. Other films include: a funny long lost opera documentary film, a Chicago affordable homeownership documentary, and a documentary about the things we left behind on the moon.

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