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Cook health woes could affect area's system: execs.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Crain's Chicago Business

(Crain’s) — Deep budget cuts and management problems at Cook County’s public hospital system threaten to ripple through the Chicago area’s health care system, hospital executives warned civic leaders Tuesday.

“I strongly urge the business community to understand that you do have a horse in this race and need to pay very close attention to what is being done with the Cook County health care system,” Illinois

Hospital Assn. President Ken Robbins told a gathering of the Rotary Club of Chicago at the Union League Club.

More than 1,000 doctors, nurses and other employees are being laid off as health officials carry out a 9% budget cut passed by county commissioners and Board President Todd Stroger, who is under pressure to fix management and patient-care problems.

Those cuts — and the prospect of more — threaten access to medical services for everyone, not just patients who use county facilities, Mr. Robbins said. A spillover of county patients could swamp emergency rooms and cause scheduling backups at private hospitals, which could buckle under the financial strain of treating thousands of people who lack health insurance, he said.

The county’s network of three hospitals and about a dozen health clinics had more than 1 million outpatient visits last year and treated more than 30,000 hospital patients.

Business and civic leaders also could play an important oversight role should Mr. Stroger yield to pressure to create an independent board to oversee the health bureau, said Sister Sheila Lyne, CEO of Mercy Hospital and Medical Center on the South Side.

“There really needs to be an independent health board,” she said.

Mr. Stroger believes separate oversight of the health system would “muddy up the accountability,” a spokesman said earlier this month.

“He and the board were elected to oversee the health bureau,” the spokesman said. “An outside board would make it unclear as to who is accountable.”

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