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Cook health chief says system needs extra $119 million

Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Crain's Chicago Business
by Mike Colias

(Crain’s) — The Cook County health system needs an extra $119 million next year to beef up key medical services, buy computer systems and hire staff to fix a dysfunctional billing system, the interim health chief told county commissioners Tuesday. 

That amount represents a 16% increase from the $746 million the Bureau of Health Services estimates it will spend during this fiscal year, which ends Nov. 30. Without it, the bureau’s interim chief Robert Simon warned, more uninsured county residents could die from heart attacks, strokes and other maladies because they won’t have access to the medical services they need.
“I would ask the board to give us a chunk of money to fix (the system) and then hold me accountable,” Dr. Simon said. 

He also said the health bureau projects it will be over budget by about $22 million this year, mostly because of higher-than-expected expenses at its flagship John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital. 

A number of commissioners vowed to secure more funding and praised Dr. Simon’s efforts to restructure the health system.  But many also acknowledged the difficulty in persuading federal or state officials to funnel more money to the county. Several commissioners cited U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin’s insistence that the county fix the health bureau’s problems before he and other members of Illinois’ congressional delegation deliver more funding. 

Raising county taxes also would be a tough sell, said Commissioner Peter Silvestri. 

“It’s difficult for us to go back to the community and say, ‘We need to take more money from you for a system that does not adequately collect what it’s supposed to get,’ ” said Mr. Silvestri, a Republican who represents the Northwest Side and several suburbs. 

Dr. Simon’s funding request is slightly more than the $107 million that was cut from this year’s budget, which forced the closure of about a dozen clinics and the firing of nearly 1,000 workers. 

New funding would not be used to reopen those clinics. Instead, he said, it would be put to better use hiring experienced managers who could help generate revenue. Some primary care and specialty services also would be added, including more doctors to help whittle away a backlog of hip replacements and colonoscopies, for example.

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