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Stroger’s $3 billion budget hits health department hard

Wednesday, January 17, 2007
by Michael Welles Shapiro

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's budget proposal, released Tuesday, aims to eliminate the county's $500 million deficit but also rids the county of 16 community health care clinics and cuts the Bureau of Health by more than $100,000.
Stroger's budget, which goes next to the County Board of Commissioners with a Feb. 28 deadline for passage, will change significantly the way residents who depend on the county for medical needs receive their care.
Four of the 16 clinics scheduled for cuts are: Woodlawn Health Center, Near South Health Clinic, Cottage Grove Health Center in Ford Herights and Woody Winston Health Center in Phoenix.
The proposed $730 million appropriation for the Bureau of Health accounts for more than a quarter (27 percent) of the entire county budget. An additional $82 million in the budget will go to similar health services performed by other departments.
Stroger warned last week that painful cuts were imminent to make county government accountable to taxpayers. Continuing on that theme during his early morning speech Tuesday, Stroger said accountability could be achieved by "living within our means, attacking government bloat wherever we find it, and by demanding higher standards so that the delivery of vital
services is not only maintained, but also improved."
Commissioner Forrest Claypool attacked Stroger's budget, arguing that cuts to services were made to keep room in the county payroll for high-salaried political appointees.
"There are thousands and thousands of families who have no other places to turn but these community clinics and our hospitals, which are already crowded," Claypool said. "To jeopardize their health just to protect these six-figured jobs you've been reading about in the newspaper going to friends and relatives of Todd Stroger is simply wrong."
At a follow-up press conference Stroger defended the cuts, saying, "We won't be cutting any essential services."
"When you speak about services, there are no 'non-essential services' here," said Dr. Peter Orris of Stroger Hospital of Cook County. Orris, who is part of a movement among physicians at the hospital to organize a union, said, "Every one of the services here have been projected to be provided because of health needs of the residents of Cook County."
Other health care cuts were proposed for Provident Hospital where Stroger recommended that obstetrics and gynecological services would be consolidated and moved to Stroger hospital. But the clinic closures dominated discussion at the press conference.
Stroger said patients can expect longer lines in the near future, but he stressed that balancing the budget would lead to more efficient government and better services in the long term.
"Everything cannot be a priority," said Laurence Msall of The Civic Federation, a government watchdog group. "We applaud President Todd Stroger for stepping forth and breaking new ground here. For the first time the Cook County Board president has presented a budget that's balanced."
Michael Welles Shapiro is a reporter for the Medill News Service.

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