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Vendors paid during probe
Inspector general's inquiry centers on health contracts

Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Two Cook County health-care vendors under suspicion for possible improprieties will continue to get paid while the county conducts an investigation, the county's health chief said Tuesday.

Dr. Robert Simon, interim chief of the health services bureau, declined to give details about the allegations surrounding the companies or other vendors that were first referred to in a vaguely worded press release issued Monday by board President Todd Stroger.
Stroger refused to discuss the problems Tuesday when asked by reporters. "Basically, we've given you the information that we can, and you have to deal with it," Stroger said.

Simon offered some explanation, but he said he was hesitant to go into details because he didn't want the county to get sued.

"The reason why we can't answer questions has nothing to do with hiding anything. It has to do with letting the investigation go through so that we don't put the county and the taxpayer in liability where we're paying some multimillion-dollar lawsuit because we've said something that after a full investigation it turns out to be somebody else's fault," Simon said.

"But there's enough issues in a couple of contracts that we have directed them to the inspector general," he added. "Once the investigation is complete, you have our assurance that once the liability issues are out of the way, the president or I will go forth and show you and tell you what we have found."

Simon, who was named interim bureau chief in late December, said Stroger asked him to review all the health bureau's current contracts. Through that review, Simon said his team "found that in several contracts there may be improprieties."

Simon would not say any more about what his concerns were or what types of services those vendors provided. To date, he said, none of the contracts has been canceled. But Simon added that one or two might be canceled, depending on what the investigation uncovers.

Also Tuesday, Simon said that last weekend both Provident and Stroger Hospitals had a high number of employees call in sick. He said he believed it was in protest over the recent budget cuts. The hospitals had to pay other employees overtime to cover shifts.

"Clearly it was a work slowdown," Simon said. "It even adds more to the budgetary burden than it is right now."

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