Focused on health care

County Farm Bureau president helping patients, farmers.

Janet McCabe, president of the Cook County Farm Bureau, has worked as a critical care nurse for more than 30 years. In addition to helping patients, she’s also trying to help make health insurance more affordable for farmers through Illinois Farm Bureau’s Health Care Working Group. (Photo courtesy of Janet McCabe)

By Deana Stroisch

Janet McCabe still vividly remembers the opening scene of the television series, M*A*S*H.

It helped launch her career.

McCabe, who currently serves as Cook County Farm Bureau president, recently recalled watching the show as a young girl and seeing the nurses running to the helicopter pad.

“I just thought that was the neatest thing,” she said. “I can’t remember not ever wanting to be a nurse.”

McCabe, who currently works at a south suburban Chicago hospital, has been a critical care nurse for more than 30 years.

She’s witnessed many changes in the health care industry — from the addition of private rooms and longer visitor hours to higher costs and increased focus on patient satisfaction surveys.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University in 1982 and worked on a hospital surgical floor before starting in intensive care.

“Staffing ratios weren’t in effect back then,” she said. “There were two of us nurses and two nursing assistants, and if the place was full, you had 46 patients. You learned to get organized really fast.”

Years later, McCabe remains focused on patient care — all while trying to help make it more affordable for farmers.

Cook County Farm Bureau, along with others in District 5, initiated a Sense of the Delegate Body Resolution in 2017 that called for Illinois Farm Bureau to investigate affordable health care options for members. McCabe helped spearhead that effort and has served on IFB’s Health Care Working Group ever since.

McCabe grew up in the northwest suburbs and admits she knew nothing about agriculture growing up. She met her husband, Joe, in college. His family farmed part-time in Orland Park.

Today, the couple grows corn and soybeans, and bales hay and straw. They have two grown children — Julie, a pharmacist in St. Louis, and Kevin, a laborer for a general contractor. Kevin’s wife, Jessi, is also a critical care nurse.

All farm work is done at night and on the weekends.

McCabe works the night shift — 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. — which leaves her days free for Farm Bureau work and for raking and baling hay when needed.

Her part-time nursing position does not come with benefits, so they rely on Joe’s mechanic job for health insurance. She remembers being shocked when learning of the high premiums and deductibles full-time farmers were paying through the Affordable Care Act.

A 2017 story published in Crain’s Chicago Business sparked discussion at a Cook County Farm Bureau Board meeting. And eventually it led to a resolution being approved at IFB’s Annual Meeting that year.

“It became glaringly obvious that it wasn’t just a few people in Cook County who were frustrated,” she said. “We never had the intention to try to force Farm Bureau and COUNTRY to get back into health care. I think people just had such frustration and thought ‘Surely with a group the size of the Illinois Farm Bureau, there had to be purchasing power.’”

A working group, which includes about 20 members from across the state, has been exploring various options. The group recently agreed to continue discussions with Blue Cross Blue Shield and begin talks with UnitedHealthcare about creating an Association Health Plan for members. The group further agreed to continue educating members about ways to reduce health care costs, including available marketplace subsidies.

McCabe applauded the work of IFB Vice President Brian Duncan, Chris Magnuson, IFB executive director of operations, and Christina Nourie, IFB northwest legislative coordinator.

“The expertise they brought in, and the work they’ve done on this has been impressive,” she said. “They really took it to heart. Nobody can complain they haven’t gone down every avenue and lifted up every rock to try to help. Unfortunately, the reality is there isn’t a lot we can do.”

McCabe isn’t sure what the future of health care holds. Like many services, hospitals are becoming “more of a business” and many small, private facilities are “getting taken over by bigger corporations.”

“I don’t know if bigger conglomerates equate to better care,” she said. “I see a lot of emphasis on the bottom line. Personal touch kind of gets lost in the shuffle.”

But McCabe said she’s in it for the long haul. It’s what she’s always wanted to do.

“I like seeing people get better and interacting with them and their families,” she said. “I still really like it.”