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Health bureau chief says patients will die

Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

If the Cook County health system doesn't get an extra $119 million more in 2008, patients in the area will start to sicken and die from lack of care, the health bureau chief who has orchestrated recent budget cuts said.
"People will suffer, there's no question," health bureau chief Robert Simon said Tuesday. "If there's not enough funding ... people are probably going to die ... for lack of care."
In a presentation to the county board, health officials said they won't be able to meet their 2007 budget targets. The health bureau will be an estimated $19.5 million over budget on expenses and $35.8 million under budget on revenue for 2007.
But even with those overruns, Simon said he has slashed $107 million from what had been an $845 million health system. And while those cuts did some good, he begged the county board to find a way to restore some of that funding for 2008.
"The cuts ... have caused a lot of good changes. All those (cuts) you saw to the management? We should have done that a long time ago," Simon said. "Those won't be put back. We've taken out all of the garbage."
Instead, Simon said he wants the additional money to beef up primary care services that were cut this year, increase the number of hip and joint replacements the county can perform and hire better middle managers to boost hospital revenue.
"There's just no way to operate the bureau of health and restore some of the critical service cuts without an additional $119 million," Simon said.
Simon made a passionate plea to the board that the county health is a worth saving. He said the health bureau did more with less than neighboring private hospitals, citing as an example cancer survival rates that were higher than the national average.
"This is really the Mayo Clinic of public hospitals," Simon said.
Simon said he hasn't been able to meet his budget target this year because the state wouldn't sign off on some of the hospital consolidations and because layoffs have been delayed by contract demands.
Patient fee collections -- which the county has lagged on for years -- have improved slower than expected as Simon's new management team continues to find problems with the county billing system.
"We're stumbling over these things every day," health bureau chief operating officer Tom Glaser said.

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