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County could cut clinics

Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Cook County would close some of its walk-in medical clinics in the suburbs in a budget-cutting plan proposed by the new chief of county health services.
Robert Simon told county health employees in meetings Monday that some of the clinics would have to close and some doctors would be laid off, said employees who attended the meeting.
"Dr. Simon did indicate that cuts will be made in the bureau of health, and I believe he said that includes some closings in the ambulatory care network," county spokesman Steve Mayberry said.
County Board President Todd Stroger has not yet signed off on any closings, Mayberry said, but nothing is yet ruled out. Stroger appointed Simon as interim bureau chief last month because he is "trusting" Simon to "propose a new system for the delivery of public health care," Mayberry said.
Stroger, who was in Springfield Monday for the governor's inauguration, was not available for comment. Reached by phone after hours, Simon declined to comment.
The $830 million county health bureau runs 18 community clinics across the county, including ones in Ford Heights, Oak Forest, Phoenix and Robbins and five on Chicago's South Side, according to the county's Web site. More clinics are set up in local schools and hospitals.
County Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), who's serving on Stroger's transition team, said health bureau officials have told him the clinics must close if the bureau is going to make the 17 percent budget cut that Stroger has requested for all departments.
"I don't see that (Simon) has any choice," Quigley said. "If he doesn't do 17 percent, everybody else rolls back. -- Other officials said they'll only cut if the president cuts."
Stroger requested the across-the-board cut to close a $502 million budget deficit for 2007 without raising taxes.
The health bureau is the largest department under Stroger's direct control, and many of the other county officials resisting cuts have said it must be cut first. The bureau came in at least $70 million under its projected revenue in 2006.
Dr. Simon Piller, a physician at the Robbins clinic, said he was dismayed when he heard Simon say some clinics would close. Piller said poor patients with no access to transportation will find it difficult to travel elsewhere for basic health care.
"We're already extremely busy. We have waits of three or four months or more for appointments," Piller said. "We need more doctors, not less."
Sheilah Garland-Olaniran, coordinator for the union that represents most Cook County nurses, said unions would likely ban together to fight the proposal.
Jonathan Lipman may be reached at
jlipman@dailysouthtown.com
or (312) 782-1286.


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