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$130 mil. in unpaid hospital bills found
County to recover only $30 mil.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

More than $130 million in unpaid Cook County hospital bills have been found stuffed into boxes -- and officials said 40 or 50 more boxes could be stashed somewhere else.
While finances and bookkeeping were long known to be a problem in the hospital system, County Board members learned Tuesday just how big the problem had become during the tenure of ex-Board President John Stroger.
The 77 boxes recently discovered were each stuffed with about 2,500 billing forms.
And hospital chief Dr. Robert Simon said there could be another 40 or 50 similar boxes hidden elsewhere.
Bills too old to collect
That's millions more in free services people received, with the county never once attempting to collect payment from the patient or Medicaid.
"We've never hidden the fact that finances have been mismanaged," he said. "We inherited this. We just needed time and money to fix it."
Hospital chief operating officer Tom Glaser said that because many of the bills are so old, the county likely won't be able to collect on most of them.
He expects the county to recover only about $30 million.
Those responsible for county billing have been ousted, Simon said, and more changes are coming.
They must, he said, because state and federal leaders are hesitant to deliver any more money for county health services until the finances are improved. To that end, County Board President Todd Stroger said he's following a recommendation from Sen. Dick Durbin to establish a panel of outside experts to regularly review hospital operations and ensure improvements are made.
That includes shipping those boxes of bills to a company that is now scanning in each one -- at 10,000 a day --to see which ones the county could expect to get paid for.
Nurses call in sick
Although the county had planned to rely on various private contractors to assist with future bill collections, Glaser said the county is now considering working with the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council and its resources in those collection efforts.
Also Tuesday, Simon reported a string of absences by nurses at Stroger and Provident hospitals, which he suspects was instigated by the nurses' union, upset about job losses because of budget cuts.
While a weekend normally sees about six people call in sick, 30 Provident nurses called in sick last weekend and even more at Stroger, he said.
That led to reduced services, longer waits and overtime for nurses working.
National Nurses Organizing Committee officials, who protested at Tuesday's board meeting, did not return calls.


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