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Interim Cook hospital boss wants to 'fix the place and leave'

Saturday, May 19, 2007
Crain's Chicago Business
by Mike Colias

(Crain’s) — The interim chief of Cook County’s health system said Friday that he won’t take the permanent post even if it’s offered to him.
“I have no desire to take the permanent job,” said Robert Simon, who was appointed in December by County Board President Todd Stroger to run the massive Bureau of Health Services temporarily after Daniel Winship stepped down. “All I want to do is fix the place and leave.”
Dr. Simon, who has no previous experience running a hospital, hadn’t been ruled in or out as a contender for the permanent job. A spokesman says Mr. Stroger “always worked under the assumption that Dr. Simon is serving an interim role,” which could last up to 18 months. But the county has taken no steps to find a permanent successor.
“Our thinking here is to let his plan play out and when the time comes look for a permanent person to fill that role,” the spokesman says.
Dr. Simon has taken heat from the county’s nurses union and some medical staff for shuttering a dozen outpatient clinics and cutting some hospital programs while laying off more than 1,000 workers. The cuts came after Mr. Stroger and county commissioners slashed the health bureau’s budget this year by nearly 10%, to $745 million.
In a telephone interview, Dr. Simon defended the restructuring, insisting he eliminated only little-used services and that the cuts have had minimal impact on access to medical services for poor people. He blamed the media and others for exaggerating the effect of the budget cuts.
“There are too many politics and games and inaccurate stories,” Dr. Simon says. “I don’t care about the commissioners or Stroger. I just want to help working poor get the medical services they need.”

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