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County budget cuts target sherrif's office, hospitals

Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Sheriff's police and court deputies would be slashed and long-term care at Oak Forest Hospital would be reduced by two-thirds under further budget cuts proposed Tuesday by Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.
Stroger's refined budget plan would cut another 236 sheriff's deputies and 100 sheriff's police.
Combined with previously announced cuts, Stroger's proposed budget trims 614 people from the sheriff's office, according to a furious Sheriff Tom Dart.
"These cuts -- defy all logic," Dart said. "These cuts are unconscionable."
Stroger also proposed further cuts at Provident and Oak Forest hospitals, including a dramatic reduction in the number of long-term care beds open at Oak Forest, once a national leader in long-term care.
"I am keeping the health care system intact," Stroger said. "Sometimes, there's going to be some pain felt."
Some non-union county employees will be asked to take up to 20 unpaid furlough days under the proposal, said Stroger, who promised to take them himself.
The county's unions have rejected all requests for their members to take furlough days or delay pay increases, Stroger said. Such measures could have saved up to $284 million, according to county officials, but would have resulted in dramatically lower paychecks for union employees.
Stroger introduced a 2007 budget proposal last week that included no tax increases, about 450 layoffs and elimination of another 1,000 vacant positions. But that budget also included $107 million in "target adjustments," which were departmentwide cuts that hadn't been detailed.
Those target adjustments were turned into real budget line items Tuesday as Stroger introduced 36 amendments to his original proposal. Budget officials said they had not yet calculated how many additional layoffs will be needed.
The amendments did not change the amount of money available to the sheriff or other departments, but they did make concrete what had been theoretical cuts to services.
Oak Forest, which was targeted for a $25 million cut, will reduce its 220 long-term care beds to 70, interim health bureau chief Robert Simon said. Many patients will be transferred to area nursing homes, he said.
"Those beds are generally full," Simon said. "The ones that are going to be tough are the indigent, the homeless, those without Medicaid."
Other cuts to Provident and Stroger hospitals will leave those facilities operating at near capacity all the time, Simon said.
"If there's a flu, if there's any kind of crisis in this city, we will not have the capacity to expand. There will be patients waiting in that waiting room and in the ER for more than a day, waiting for a bed," Simon said. "Honestly, I hope to God there isn't a crisis."
Stroger said he chose cuts that would preserve the county's vital functions of public health and safety. Sheriff's police patrol unincorporated Cook County, he said, which has gotten smaller as towns have annexed more land.
"We have never cut the sheriff's police as the land mass they have to cover has shrunk," Stroger said. "We're at that time where we have to do that."
But a visibly angry Dart said at a news conference that it would be impossible for him to provide basic security in the courts and in the suburbs with the number of deputies provided. He rejected arguments the sheriff's police is overstaffed, even though it has more police per capita than municipal police departments.
"Contrary to the belief of fools, our number of calls for service have been increasing day in, day out in suburban Cook County," Dart said. "These cuts make no sense, absolutely no sense."


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