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Reforms blocked at county hospitals

Thursday, January 05, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Cook County Board President John Stroger has personally delayed implementing one of the key administrative reforms of county hospitals pushed through by commissioners during last year's marathon budget debate.

The board voted 9 to 7 to consolidate duplicated departments as finance, human resources and public affairs at county health facilities by the end of last year. But work has not yet begun on that process.

Commissioners who pushed for the changes were furious when learning that the changes had been delayed.

"It's really an illegal thwarting of the will of the board of commissioners," said Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago). "It's outrageous."

"He's done this before, but this is more significant," said Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago). "This was finally some substantive change."

Stroger's office says the changes will come eventually but need to be worked out countywide.

"(Stroger) is not against it," spokeswoman Caryn Stancik said. "We want to integrate more than the bureau of health. ... The president assured me today that it's being worked on."

The amendment called for those departments to be consolidated and their total budgets cut by 30 percent by the end of the 2005 fiscal year, which ended in November.

"We have done a lot of work along that line and are preparing to present that to the president when he is ready to receive it," health bureau chief Daniel Winship said. "The president has not wanted to receive it yet."

It was one of dozens of amendments passed during a two-day county board session in February that balanced the county budget without tax increases proposed by Stroger.

It was projected to save $2.1 million in 2005 and $8.3 million in 2006. Stroger's office said the numbers are not based on solid research and are unrealistic.

Although it was one of the smallest budget amendments, it was one of the most bitterly fought.

Claypool, now running against Stroger for president, said it epitomized his argument that Stroger wastes money. Stroger said any cuts to the health bureau would hurt services for the poor.

Stroger ally John Daley heads the finance committee and runs the budget meetings. He said the board deserves an explanation of what happened to the consolidation plan.

"The amendment was passed," Daley (D-Chicago) said. "If there is any reason that (Stroger) can't do it, he should explain it to the board. ... I believe the board will address this when (Winship) makes his budget presentation."

Claypool said Wednesday it makes no sense for Stroger to block the changes if he wants to help the hospital system.

"The intent was to free money from bureaucracy and put it towards health care," Claypool said. "Clearly, what (Stroger) is protecting is highly paid, politically connected bureaucrats who push paper ... but don't provide direct medical assistance to anybody."

Debate on Stroger's 2006 budget begins next week. His proposal shows each hospital still running its own finance, human resources and public affairs departments. Some of those departments have smaller budgets and fewer staff than last year, but others have more.

The 2006 budget cuts 82 positions from the county's 25,400-person work force while calling for a $1 increase in the county's cigarette tax.



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