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County to end long-term hospital care

Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Cook County is getting out of the long-term health care business. Commissioners voted to ship remaining long-term and intermediate care patients from Oak Forest Hospital to two nearby nursing homes.
After more than an hour of debate, the county's health and hospitals committee voted 9 to 3 on Monday to approve contracts with a private nursing home contractor. The deal is expected to win full approval at the next meeting.
The contract sends about 60 Oak Forest patients, mostly undocumented immigrants who are not eligible for Medicaid or other government programs, to two nursing homes in Bridgeview and Chicago's Morgan Park community.
Health Bureau Chief Robert Simon said the three-year, $19 million deal with operators New York Boys LLC will save the county $10.1 million a year.
Simon said he was confident the patients will be well cared for.
"If I wasn't, as a physician, it would be unethical for me to recommend it," Simon said. "The patients we've already transferred say they're happy there."
Some commissioners said they worry that agreeing to pay for the private care of patients who could live for decades might eventually cost the county more than it saves.
"As time goes by and costs go up, we'll be paying more for these patients," said Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood), before voting against the deal. "These contracts will not stay the same."
Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) called the deal a "foolish act" that gave Cook County a new legal responsibility to patients.
"Once we agree to be paying for them, we create an entitlement," Larry said. "This is a lack of management and implementation of the budget."
The deal allows Simon to completely close both Oak Forest's long-term care unit, which houses patients for years, and the intermediate "skilled nursing" unit where patients stay if they need several weeks of chronic care.
Patients who have insurance or qualify for federal assistance are being referred to other nursing homes of their choice, officials said, and will not cost the county anything. About 70 of the 220 long-term care patients have left voluntarily.
The original plan approved during 2007 budget cuts involved keeping some of the skilled-nursing beds open at Oak Forest, but Simon said federal Medicaid rules made that impossible.
Closing down both units and laying off about 500 people allows the hospital to close down some buildings and focus on the critical units that remain open -- acute care, rehabilitation and the emergency room, officials said.
Simon said the county's new procedure of referring patients with long-term needs to nursing homes is similar to what many private hospitals do. But the closure has prompted fierce protests from unions and some patient advocates.
Simon said he's concerned the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board may not sign off on the closure.
"The board has become a major, major obstacle," Simon said. "It took them a month just to respond to our one letter."

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