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Stroger must heed hospital panel's advice

Monday, April 16, 2007
Crain's Chicago Business

Cook County hospitals need professional management.
Years of control by the Stroger political machine has left the county health system in disarray. Patronage workers pack the payroll while patient care suffers and bills go unsent. A financial crisis rooted in mismanagement is deepening as the federal government cuts Medicaid payments to hospitals.
As Mike Colias reported in Crain's last week, an independent panel of local health care luminaries blamed the system's sorry state on the lack of independent, professional leadership. The committee, appointed by new County Board President Todd Stroger, urged him to cede control of the hospitals to experienced managers.
That's like telling a newly ascended monarch to part with the crown jewels. Mr. Stroger's father and predecessor, John, bequeathed him the hospital patronage army along with the board presidency. John Stroger's name is on the new main county hospital, a sign of how important the health care system has been to the family dynasty.
Not surprisingly, the younger Mr. Stroger hasn't rushed to embrace the panel's report, which he's been sitting on for about a month. A spokesman makes vague statements about the recommendations being "in play."
Those recommendations, by contrast, are clear and direct: Appoint an independent board to oversee county hospitals; conduct a nationwide search for a well-qualified hospital executive to run the system (Cook County's current hospital boss has never run a hospital system before, but he was John Stroger Jr.'s personal physician), and get the county personnel department out of the hospital hiring process.
Cook County has one of the few large public hospital systems in the country still controlled by politicians. Clearly, the county can't afford to operate this way anymore.
We need an efficient hospital system capable of delivering top-flight medical care to the millions who depend on it. The independent panel's report has laid out a road map for getting there. Now it's up to Mr. Stroger to implement its recommendations.

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