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County hospital needs leadership change — now

Monday, June 25, 2007
Crain's Chicago Business
Editorial

The Cook County Bureau of Health and John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital need new leadership now.
Current management seems barely able to fathom — much less fix — deteriorating conditions at the county's safety-net hospital. As Mike Colias of Crain's has reported, revenues are running 9% below budget this year, expenses 3% over budget. A recent inspection by a hospital accrediting agency revealed numerous flaws that could cost Stroger the certification it needs to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid payments.
Yet with a crisis brewing, the hospital operates under an interim CEO expected to occupy the seat for 18 months. Robert Simon is an earnest fellow, and probably a good doctor, but he has no experience running a hospital system — and he's said he doesn't want the job permanently.
There's no good reason to delay the search for his replacement. What the county needs is a proven hospital executive with a track record of fixing troubled institutions like Stroger. Qualified candidates exist, and with the right pay package, sufficient autonomy to do what needs doing and freedom from political interference any number of them would leap at the chance to turn around one of the country's largest public hospitals.
A leader experienced in dealing with the woes of big-city public hospitals would bring new approaches to solving Stroger's problems. An independent chief with a sterling résumé also would help persuade the accreditation body not to yank the certification so critical to the hospital's financial survival.
And hiring an outsider with no ties to County Board President Todd Stroger and his political string-pullers would provide a badly needed shot of credibility with some important constituencies. Illinois' congressional delegation, for example, refuses to seek federal funds for Stroger until the county reforms the hospital's management.
Their concerns run to the heart of Stroger's problem: a culture of cronyism and featherbedding that creates layers of bureaucrats beholden to the Stroger family but does nothing for patients. Hiring an independent, well-qualified executive to run the hospital would be the first sign that Mr. Stroger is serious about changing those priorities.


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