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Ford Heights clinic will stay open

Thursday, February 01, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Cook County's Cottage Grove health clinic in Ford Heights will not be closed this year and was never supposed to be, county officials said Wednesday.
"Cottage Grove needs to be open, it's a good facility," said Dr. Robert Simon, interim chief of the county health bureau, after a budget hearing Wednesday.
The proposed 2007 Cook County budget lists the clinic as one of 16 closed as part of cuts meant to erase a $502 million budget gap. As one of the county's newest facilities in one of its poorest areas, many county employees, doctors and activists protested its closure as a foolish idea.
Simon, who has been given a free hand on the budget from Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, said he never planned to close the Ford Heights clinic and doesn't know why it was included in the budget proposal. County budget officials were also at a loss to explain the mix-up.
"I think, honestly, it's in error. We'll have to make an amendment. Because in my plans, Cottage Grove is right on my open list," Simon said.
Clinics in Robbins and at Oak Forest Hospital will also remain open. A clinic in Phoenix will close under the proposed budget.
The confusion on the Ford Heights clinic is just part of the increasingly chaotic county budget picture. Budget director Donna Dunnings told commissioners she still wasn't sure how many layoffs are planned. Stroger Hospital's budget, as presented Wednesday, was $12.7 million lower than in figures presented just a week ago.
Angry county commissioners demanded and promised changes to the budget during the hearing Wednesday. Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) said reducing the long-term care beds at Oak Forest Hospital from 220 to 70 was morally irresponsible.
"The families cannot take care of these people," Murphy said. "I called several nursing homes in the area, they have no beds. -- By moving them, you could be giving them a death sentence."
Simon answered all questions with variation of the same answer -- that he had no other choice.
"My dilemma is where else do I cut?" Simon said. "I didn't know what else to take, I don't know what else to do."
Simon and budget officials warned the board that even if all the proposed cuts are made, the budget still won't be really balanced.
The budget proposal counts on a $43 million increase in 2007 over what was actually collected last year in hospital patient fees. Fee collections are already $8 million below last year for the first two months, chief financial officer Tom Glaser said.
"We are already stretching the revenue estimates for the bureau of health," Glaser said.
The budget is structured as if cuts and layoffs were in effect all year long, Simon said. But the county's fiscal year began in December and it might take months after the budget passes for some layoffs and patient transfers to be complete.
"There's no question that unless additional revenues come in, I will be over budget," Simon said.
Simon said he plans a major overhaul of how the health bureau does business, but the county's unions are blocking his attempts to get rid of unnecessary personnel.
"We have to figure out -- what do we do if we have nothing but people who are unable to do the job, untrainable?" Simon said. "How do I restructure them when they're union positions?"
Anders Lindall, spokesman for the county chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Simon is criticizing the wrong people.
"No one, not Dr. Simon or anyone else, has shown us a shred of evidence of how a union contract could preclude them from rooting out cronies in upper management and improving the grossly mismanaged administration of the health system," Lindall said.

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