Stroger's doctor to lead Cook health systemInterim duty to last through budget talks
Friday, December 29, 2006
by Mickey Ciokajlo
A veteran Cook County emergency department doctor who is also the personal physician of former County Board President John Stroger was named Thursday as the interim chief of the county's massive health system.
Board President Todd Stroger, John Stroger's son, tapped Dr. Robert Simon to lead the operation at least through the current budget process in which Stroger is asking all departments to cut their spending plans by 17 percent.
The county's $830 million Bureau of Health Services runs a network of clinics, a public health department and three public hospitals, including Stroger Hospital on Chicago's Near West Side.
Simon said in a written statement that he was grateful for the appointment and that he looked forward to the challenge.
"As we look ahead to creating a budget for the Bureau of Health Services, we will do so with everything on the table, but with an eye towards ensuring that we adhere to our core mission of quality health-care delivery to those most in need," Simon said.
Simon is currently the executive chairman of emergency medicine for the county. He is also the founder of International Medical Corps, which provides medical care in war zones.
Stroger praised Simon, who joined the county in 1988, for his medical experience and knowledge of the county's mission of treating the poor and the uninsured. "He also fully understands, however, that a serious commitment is needed to re-examining how we achieve that goal for the bureau's fiscal good health to be restored," Stroger said in a statement.
Simon replaces Drs. Carolyn Lopez and Linda Rae Murray, who were appointed last month on a temporary basis by interim Board President Bobbie Steele. Lopez and Murray, who were jointly appointed as co-chiefs, will return to their previous jobs within the health bureau, Stroger spokesman Steve Mayberry said.
Lopez and Murray replaced Dr. Daniel Winship, who led the bureau for more than two years before he was forced to resign in early November. Winship and the bureau's finance team came under pressure during the year from the County Board for failing to meet revenue projections.
Stroger will wait for a report from his transition team before he selects a permanent chief for the health bureau, Mayberry said.
Although Simon is John Stroger's personal physician, Mayberry said that fact was "incidental" to his appointment.
It was Simon who told reporters that John Stroger's progress was "outstanding" the day after Stroger suffered a stroke in March one week before the Democratic primary. Two days later, however, Simon and a stroke expert held a news conference where they explained that Stroger's stroke was more serious than they had thought.
Stroger still won the primary but later retired, paving the way for the election of his son in November. He has not made a public appearance since the stroke.
"I hope he's more forthcoming about the condition of the county's health-care system than he was about President Stroger's condition," said Commissioner Forrest Claypool, who lost to John Stroger in the primary.
Commissioner Mike Quigley, who was Claypool's campaign chairman and is now on Stroger's transition team, said Simon appeared to be a good choice.
"He seems to understand what he has to do here, and I look forward to helping him get that accomplished," Quigley said.