George's almost superhuman energy and brilliance

[This article was originally published on October 6, 2018.]

I will miss my friend and mentor. Without his support my long and rewarding career would have ended after eight years. When there was nowhere for a teacher to turn for justice, there was George and Substance. When principal James Moffat was sexually abusing students there was George and Substance. When students were compelled to take absurd high stakes tests with wrong answers there was George and Substance. He took a hit for all of us and paid with his teaching career. CPS was his Moby Dick.

I first met George through a mutual friend, Robbie Skeist, in the mid 1970s. Robbie and my husband Michael (before I met Michael) knew George from around 1967 through the University of Chicago and CADRE (Chicago Area Draft Resisters). George moved into the fight to organize the military, while Michael and Robbie worked on non-cooperation with the draft. Reporter Miriam Socoloff on her 30th birthday with a Substance cake and Substance staff members in the late 1970s.

Robbie and I were in a radical Jewish newspaper collective, Chutzpah, that promoted positive Jewish identity, militant resistance to neo Nazis, Palestinian rights, socialist feminism etc. I became a Chicago Teachers Union delegate to the House of Delegates and Robbie told me to seek out George. I found him at the next HOD and he immediately recruited me. What I remember most of all was his almost superhuman energy and brilliance. I would watch him sit down at a typewriter and pound out long (George!) column-width articles full of facts and figures off the top of his head. Those issues of Substance were passed around as beacons of hope and truth. I think the slogan was "Where ignorance is the standard, truth is a subversive activity.“ So many, including myself, turned to George and Substance for help. When he was on a story he was like a man possessed. He always said that to be a credible delegate you had to be a great teacher, and he was. UPC would never have had the slogan “teachers working conditions are students learning conditions.“ That is one reason this false dichotomy between social justice and bread and butter unionism is so dumb. James Wilson, like other Chicago public school teachers, was able to share his story in the pages of Substance. (See his comment below.)


October 6, 2018 at 7:50 AM

By: James Edward Wilson

George's compassion for other teachers

Please accept my sincere condolences on the passing of Mr. George Schmidt. I first met George at John Marshall High School, circa 1978, where I had a full time teaching position.

In the summer of 1980, I received a notice that I had lost my full time teaching position. I was able to speak to George about this situation and he was most compassionate in listening to me vent my concerns. He suggested that I write a letter to Substance explaining the problem.

For years, I followed all of the objectives of his mission in advocating for teachers and the students of the Chicago Public Schools. I am very saddened by the news of his passing.

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With new Spanish-language pulmonary-thoracic program, Northwestern doctors hope to improve health outcomes for Hispanic patients

By Ilana Arougheti

Chicago Tribune

Published: Sep 18, 2023

Dr. Diego Mauricio Avella Patino, who speaks fluent Spanish, welcomes his Spanish-speaking patient Maria Cortina in the Spanish language clinic at the Canning Thoracic Institute in the Northwestern Medicine campus in Chicago, Sept. 8, 2023.

Dr. Diego Mauricio Avella Patino, who speaks fluent Spanish, welcomes his Spanish-speaking patient Maria Cortina in the Spanish language clinic at the Canning Thoracic Institute in the Northwestern Medicine campus in Chicago, Sept. 8, 2023. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago as the child of Mexican immigrants who primarily spoke Spanish, Dr. Daniel Meza was often asked to translate for his parents during medical appointments.

“It’s a skill that I grew up with, having that technical language,” Meza said. “I just recall how stressful it was for my parents when they were in clinics, and as well as for myself, being a small child.”

Now a pulmonologist with Northwestern Medicine, Meza says his concerns about equity in health care lingered.

Two months ago, Meza became a part of the Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute Hispanic Program. Patients of the program receive lung and thoracic care, including surgery and preventive screenings, entirely in Spanish.

Everyone at the CTI Hispanic Program, from front desk workers to operating room nurses, is fluent in Spanish. Patients can also access a dedicated Spanish-language phone line.

Staff aim to improve health equity in Chicago by building trust with Hispanic patients and improving treatment outcomes in Hispanic communities, Meza said.

Some 28.7% of Chicagoans, or about 750,000 people, identified as Hispanic as of the 2022 census.

“When I see patients come in with their children and they see I speak Spanish, there’s kind of a relief on both sides,” Meza said.

The program launched two months ago. It is led by Dr. Diego Mauricio Avella Patino, a thoracic surgeon trained in Colombia, and by Meza, both native Spanish speakers. Avella performs surgeries related to esophageal disease, lung failure, various cancers, chest wall issues and breathing obstruction. Meza specializes in treating pulmonary problems such as asthma, respiratory failure and emphysema.

Patients are often surrounded by medical staff in their most vulnerable moments, such as right before anesthesia.

Those who can be treated in their primary language tend to forge better relationships with care providers and follow aftercare instructions better, Avella said.

“The need was overwhelming,” said Avella, who worked at Northwestern Medicine for two years before the program launched.

Dr. Diego Mauricio Avella Patino is seen with medical staff at the Canning Thoracic Institute at the Northwestern Medicine campus in Chicago.

Dr. Diego Mauricio Avella Patino is seen with medical staff at the Canning Thoracic Institute at the Northwestern Medicine campus in Chicago. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

Patients may also feel more comfortable asking detailed questions with doctors who understand the cultural norms they experience daily, Avella said.

“Sometimes the barriers for the patients to be compliant with the recommendations are beyond the disease itself, they are social,” Avella said. “When you build that bridge with the patient, it can be extremely powerful.”

Avella said some of his patients have been treated “suboptimally” at other clinics in the past. He recently saw a lung cancer patient who suffered from extreme untreated nausea. Avella discovered that the patient had been diagnosed with diabetes, but rarely spoke of it.

“This patient was never going to get her diabetes appropriately controlled because she didn’t have a doctor who was taking care of her,” Avella said. The patient is now being treated by Northwestern Medicine endocrinologists.

Patients in the CTI Hispanic Program are often referred to other Northwestern Medicine specialists, Avella said. Program staff work with these patients to schedule and prepare for future appointments in Spanish, Avella said.

The clinic is also focused on preventive measures for respiratory issues. Proposing that patients quit smoking and get screened for lung cancer has been a priority for Meza.

“There are a lot of great medications out there that we know help increase the chances of a patient quitting,” Meza said. “And in any population we have, that’s not something they’re aware exists.”

While smoking rates in Chicago are on the decline, Meza said, he’s had to convince at least one ex-smoker to schedule a lung cancer screening. Catching lung cancer at an early stage improves patient outcomes significantly, Meza said.

The program has seen higher rates of asthma and respiratory issues among patients living in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, Meza said. He attributes this to nearby factory smoke and other forms of air pollution within the last decade.

Raising patient awareness of ongoing clinical trials is also a goal, Meza said.

The American Medical Association reported in 2022 that Hispanic patients with limited English proficiency are highly underrepresented in clinical trials, particularly for vaccines and cancer treatment. In 2019, 18.5% of the United States adult population, but only 3% of cancer clinical trial participants, identified as Hispanic.

Meza and Avella both said that while working with new patients, they’re conscious of the wide diversity among Hispanic Chicagoans.

“There are people from very different racial backgrounds, educational backgrounds, financial backgrounds and many different countries of origin,” Avella said. “What I can do right now is provide health care attention in Spanish and at least be a little more culturally aware of the differences among Hispanics.”

Support within Northwestern Medicine and among colleagues has made Chicago ideal for the program, Avella said. He hopes other cities with large Spanish-speaking populations will consider the clinic a model for similar programs.

Meza also hopes to forge more connections with smaller health clinics in neighborhoods with high concentrations of primarily Spanish-speaking residents. Many Hispanic patients, particularly those of lower socioeconomic status, start their care journeys there, he said.

“As (the CTI Hispanic Program) grows, I do hope that we are kind of like a beacon in the city for pulmonary thoracic needs in the Hispanic community,” Meza said.

Chicago residents can schedule an appointment with the CTI Hispanic Program at 847-738-4863.

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