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Non-profit hospitals told to give more care to poor

Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Ray Quintanilla

Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado (D-Chicago) on Tuesday warned the county's non-profit hospitals that they could risk losing their property-tax exemptions in the future if they do not boost their charitable care to the county's poor.

This latest arm twisting comes a day after Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan said non-profit hospitals in Cook County and across the state are providing low levels of charitable medical care to the county's poor and indigent.

"It's shameful that these hospitals are providing such little care to the poor," said Maldonado, standing in the lobby of Stroger Hospital.

"Rather than care for poor patients, these hospitals are sending the poor to Stroger Hospital--a Cook County medical facility that's already bursting at the seams."

Maldonado said ideally he would like to see non-profit hospitals brought onto the tax rolls as part of his plan to fund health care for the poor. That plan calls for tax dollars generated by the county's more than 60 non-profit hospitals to be earmarked to underwrite health care for the poor.

Those hospitals can afford it, he said.

On Tuesday, Cook County Assessor James Houlihan said his office will begin gathering data on the dozens of hospitals across Cook County--including the likes of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the University of Chicago Hospitals and others--to determine an estimate of taxable value.

Houlihan's office cautioned this is only the first of many hurdles that would need to be cleared for non-profit hospitals to be placed onto the tax rolls.

"My office will begin collecting data on property-tax exempt hospitals during the upcoming triennial assessments so we may provide the Cook County Board with some estimate of value," Houlihan said.

Danny Chun, a spokesman for the Illinois Hospital Association, said Maldonado's plan would spell disaster for Cook County and force some hospitals to close their doors or drastically reduce services.

"You have to look at the facts," Chun said. "The reality is some of these hospitals would just go under."

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