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Private hospitals to help county

Monday, November 27, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Two Chicago private hospitals will donate certain medical services to Cook County's financially strapped Stroger Hospital, where some patients are waiting months for needed tests.
Officials at Rush University Medical Center and the University of Illinois Medical Center have agreed to provide mammograms and colonoscopies to indigent patients free of charge, county officials said.
"The hospitals came out to offer their support with the major problems we're having now," county board President Bobbie Steele (D-Chicago) said.
At least 4,000 poor county patients, most already showing signs of disease, are waiting for those tests in the backlogged county system, said Linda Rae Murray, interim co-chief of the county's health services.
"As a clinician, you want to make sure that the people who need the help the most get it the fastest," Murray said. "This allows us to do that."
Cook County is facing a budget deficit for 2007 that could reach more than $500 million. As word of the county's tight finances and backlogged system spread, the private hospitals offered to help, Murray said.
"This is a donation to our patients," she said. "Both these (hospitals) stepped up to say that the issue of the indigent care is not an issue to be borne only by county."
Top officials of Rush and U of I hospitals have agreed to the program, though nothing exists in writing yet, Murray said.
"I have the staff working on exactly how (patients) are going to be referred," she said. "We've got to get the doctors at the local levels talking to each other."
Other hospitals have similar agreements with the county, but most of them are paid for their services with county funds or grant money, Murray said.
"It is time for us to all work together," said Dr. Joseph Flaherty, dean of the U of I College of Medicine in a press release. "The county (hospital) is a gem, and it is an absolute value to the community. It serves a need no one else does."
Hospital administrators were unavailable for comment on Friday.
The patients served by the two private hospitals will remain the county's responsibility, and payment will be handled under the county's procedures, which allow for poor people to receive care for a small payment or for free, Murray said.
Steele said such public-private partnerships are essential to reforming the county's health system.

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