Documents obtained by The Daily Caller show that President Barack Obama’s close friend Eric Whitaker, who runs the University of Chicago Medical Center’s Urban Health Initiative, spoke at Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Chicago-area church in 2006.
Whitaker was a speaker at Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ during a Sept. 17, 2006 “Health Care Justice Forum,” according to a church bulletin TheDC obtained. The bulletin is no longer on the church’s website.
Whitaker made headline news Monday when New York Times bestselling author Edward Klein alleged during a radio interview with Sean Hannity that Whitaker offered Wright $150,000 to stay silent during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Wright, an infamous weight on Obama’s campaign, refused Whitaker’s offer, according to Klein. He documented the episode in his book “The Amateur.”
Before becoming affiliated with the University of Chicago, Whitaker was director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Then-Sen. Barack Obama helped him get that job: According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Obama called former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s political fixer, Tony Rezko, to recommend hi.. Today, Rezko is serving a prison sentence for his illegal activities on Blagojevich’s behalf.
“Somebody who I do remember talking directly to Tony about was Dr. Eric Whitaker,” Obama said when questioned about his potential involvement with Blagojevich’s crimes. “He and I played basketball together when he was getting his master’s in public health at Harvard, while I was in law school there. He had expressed an interest in that job. I did contact Tony, or Tony contacted me, and I gave him a glowing recommendation because I thought he was outstanding.”
When Whitaker spoke at Wright’s church in 2006, he was doing so in his capacity as Illinois’ top public health official. The event was called “Health Care Justice: God’s Requirement.” (RELATED: Longtime Obama pal Whitaker keeps popping up)
Shortly after that speech, longtime Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett recruited Whitaker to be executive vice president of the University of Chicago Medical Center, where she was the board chairwoman. Michelle Obama also held a leadership post at there, and helped create the Center’s Urban Health Initiative. According to The Washington Post, David Axelrod, another Obama confidante, worked with the center as well.
When the Obamas moved to Washington in 2009, Whitaker took over Mrs. Obama’s leadership of the Urban Health Initiative.
The program — one that Obama’s inner circle says helps to ensure low-income and minority patients don’t overcrowd emergency rooms when their conditions don’t warrant emergency room treatment — is just a glorified “patient dumping” scheme, according to Dr. Nick Jouriles, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Patient dumping describes an unethical practice of hospitals refusing to admit patients based on their inability to pay for health care services. Patient dumping typically involves referring those patients to other hospitals or turning them away entirely. A 1986 federal law requires hospitals that accept Medicare payments to provide emergency treatment to patients who need it, regardless of their financial status.
Jouriles suggested in 2009 that the Obama-allied Chicago program was a scheme money-hungry hospital executives hatched to take advantage of minorities and the poor in Chicago.
“The medical center is reducing emergency care access to its local community, while at the same time, opening a ‘side door’ to a ‘specialty intake area’ to provide emergency care to medical center private patients,” Jouriles said then in a statement. “This is a dangerous precedent that could have catastrophic effects in poor neighborhoods across the country.”
“Congress needs to hold hearings about the problems facing emergency patients. If other community, non-profit hospitals follow this example and shift the lion’s share of resources to its high-revenue elective patients and procedures, it will leave many emergency patients virtually out in the cold. The University of Chicago Medical Center is located in a poor neighborhood whose residents have few, if any, other options for emergency care.”
Though he has attempted to distance himself from Wright since the pastor’s incendiary and divisive ideology was exposed during his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama has kept Whitaker close. Whitaker often golfs with Obama and has been referred to in White House pool reports as the president’s “pal.” Whitaker also occasionally vacations with the first family.
Obama has kept Whitaker professionally close, too. On Monday, White House Dossier reported that the Department of Health and Human Services awarded the Urban Health Initiative a $5.9 million taxpayer grant. It was one of only 26 programs — out of 3,000 applicants — to get any of the $1 billion Obama set aside for his “We Can’t Wait” initiative, which the administration says is aimed at job creation through executive action.
The Department of Health and Human Services denies any White House involvement in the grant award decisions.