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County may close most of its clinics

Thursday, January 18, 2007
Pioneer Press
by JOHN HUSTON Staff Writer

Facing a 17 percent budget cut, Cook County's health department is planning on shuttering more than half of its primary care clinics, possibly including the Vista Health Center in Palatine.
Robert Simon, interim director of the Health Services Bureau, said "probably about 10 clinics that are high volume," of the 26 clinics scattered around Cook County, will stay open.
Based on statistics from the Health Services Bureau, Palatine's Vista Health Center ranks 14th of 26 county clinics in terms of budgeted patient visits.
"The reality of the clinics is about 85-90 percent of all patients in the community clinics are seen in 10 to 12 sites," Simon said. "A lot of those sites see seven, maybe 10, maybe 12 patients a day. And remember, a doctor schedules four patients an hour in a primary-care clinic. Calculate that out. Should that clinic be funded and open? No."
Palatine's clinic, opened in 2000, is one of seven suburban county clinics and the only one north of the Cicero locations.
Seven of the 26 clinics are school-based facilities that exclusively serve the institution's students.
$500 million deficit
The clinic closings, along with a reduction in health bureau staff, are in response to an imposed 17 percent across-the-board budget cut mandated by new Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. The health services bureau must cut $140 million from its annual budget as the county tries to reduce a $500 million deficit.
Long lines, already a reality at many County clinics and hospitals, will get longer, Simon said.
"We're going to have to cut services, we're going to have to have longer lines for a short time, but the reason to do this is the person who works at 7-11, the Laundromat worker, the housekeeper," Simon said. "They have no insurance or are underinsured. The cost of insurance in this country is the cost of mortgage, if you're paying for it yourself.
"We have to provide care to those people. That's where my commitment is."
Stroger, who is calling for the 17 percent budget cuts from each county department, admitted that the plan is difficult.
"It's going to be very painful," Stroger said. "How can you cut into any health care system and not feel some pain? But we are going to keep the essential services and that's the important thing."
Minutes after Simon and Stroger addressed reporters, a group of 10 county commissioners held a press conference to support the 17 percent cuts.
Anthony Peraica, R-16th, of Riverside, Stroger's presidential opponent in November, said he supported the proposed cuts as being in line with his belief in "smaller government, lower taxes and the elimination of corruption."
"If we're going to get this done, it's not going to be easy; it's not going to be painless," he continued. "But sometimes when all else fails there is no medication that you can give anymore and you have to engage in electro-shock treatment."
Peter N. Silvestri, R-9th, of Elmwood Park said the cuts present a chance to put county services under analysis.
"We're looking at the first time the government has taken an overwhelming, comprehensive review of the priorities of county government and I think that's an important step," Silvestri said. "We have to be able to prioritize what we need to do and what we don't need to do. Prosecutors and nurses are certainly a high priority, but some of the other programs may not be."

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