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Even docs needed clout, says ousted chief of county hospitals

Friday, November 03, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON AND FRAN SPIELMAN

Dr. Daniel Winship was hired to run the $1 billion Cook County hospital system, but says he had no say on who was hired to fill thousands of jobs.
That control was closely guarded by former County Board President John Stroger and his allies, Winship said Thursday.
"I couldn't do anything," he said, just hours after Board President Bobbie Steele announced his resignation.
Jobs, he said, were filled only through Stroger's office and political patronage affected all hires, including doctors, though he doesn't think it "adversely affected the delivery of care to patients."
Federal agents are combing through county records, including from the hospitals, in search of the impact of patronage on county hiring.
Winship has been repeatedly publicly battered by Steele and others about hospital operations. Thursday, she named two Stroger Hospital doctors to jointly fill his spot:
Dr. Carolyn C. Lopez, who chairs Stroger's Department of Family Practice, and Dr. Linda Rae Murray, chief medical officer for primary care and community health.
Winship's resignation was days in the making, as threats of legal action have loomed since Steele said the hospital was being run by "some of the biggest liars I've ever seen."
She leveled no criticism Thursday, careful to praise him for making strides "under challenging circumstances" and citing his efforts to ease a nursing shortage, develop a mail-order prescription program and accelerate the creation of electronic medical records.
Doctor 'mulling' a lawsuit
Still, she said, the hospital's finances are "dismal, to say the least." Though she has just four weeks left in her term, she said change was needed.
The hospital is $70 million in debt, and financial operations have been shifted from hospital to county officials.
Winship said most debt is due to a lack of federal funds and staff did "a lot of things to upgrade financial functions."
Winship also hired attorney Laurel Bellows, who said "we are mulling" a lawsuit in the wake of attacks Winship described as "very hurtful."
Still, he praised many of the overworked nurses and doctors who make up the 8,000 county hospital employees.
"Looking back," he said, "the things we were able to accomplish were pretty good."


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