Hospital district reacts to Obama's speech

January 25, 2011 9:03:30 PM PST
Two major themes in Obama's State of the Union speech were improving the economy and health care for Americans. They are issues deeply impacting thousands of people in our area.

While Houston has fared better than many other parts of the country, the numbers alone at the Harris County Hospital District paint a telling picture. There are still many people unemployed and hurting economically.

Olga Perez is one of a hundred workers at the Harris County Hospital District Call Center.

"It's always busy, it's busy from the moment that I walk in until I leave at the end of the day," she said.

For 11 hours every day, there is a line, and behind each call is a story of someone who needs medical help.

"Sometimes we have patients asking questions so we try to address as many things as we can," Perez said.

Perez can see the impact of unemployment and the economy here in Houston, and on Tuesday night, her concerns were echoed in Washington.

"I've heard it in the frustrations of Americans who've seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear," Obama said during his State of the Union address.

Carolyn Oddo is a vice president with the Harris County Hospital District. She says the call center is fielding 9,000 calls a day. About 1,000 of those calls are new applicants into the system wanting to know if they are eligible for care.

"Well what we know is that there are a lot of Houstonians who do need help, and they are affected greatly by the economic downturn," Oddo said.

In fact since February of 2009, requests for services at the Harris County Hospital District have increased 44 percent.

"They are stories of our neighbors and our family members who never thought that they would need to use a health system like the Harris County Hospital District," Oddo said.

The president said recent tax cuts will help.

"Every business can write off the full cost of the new investments that they make this year. These steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year," Obama said.

But until then, workers at the hospital district's call center will keep answering the calls for help.

The hospital district is seeing about 1.6 million people in outpatient care each year.