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Control change to be proposed for Cook health system

Friday, October 12, 2007
Crain's Chicago Business
by Mike Colias

(Crain’s) — An independent board of trustees would assume day-to-day oversight of Cook County’s embattled health system for at least three years under a measure County Commissioner Larry Suffredin plans to introduce next week.
The interim board, which would be appointed by outside health care groups, would be given the power to ink contracts and hire workers “free from any political interference,” the proposed ordinance says. Those decisions are made now by County Board President Todd Stroger and commissioners.
Mr. Suffredin (D-Evanston), who is running for Cook County State's Attorney, said greater expertise is needed to help stabilize the three-hospital system, which is reeling from a $105-million budget cut earlier this year that forced nearly 1,000 layoffs and the closure of a dozen neighborhood clinics. Another shortfall of at least $65 million looms for the fiscal year that starts Dec. 1.
“We need to bring in people whose life blood is health care,” Mr. Suffredin said Thursday. He said the new board would be better able to direct fiscal changes at the cash-starved health bureau, such as fixing sloppy billing practices.
The measure also effectively calls for the ouster of Robert Simon, interim chief of the Bureau of Health Services. The new trustees would appoint an interim chief within 30 days and conduct a national search for a permanent leader to take over within four months. A spokesman for Dr. Simon didn’t immediately return a call.
Though some commissioners recently have expressed support for temporarily shifting control of the health system to an outside board, it’s unclear whether Mr. Suffredin’s proposal would have enough votes to pass.
Gregg Goslin (R-Glenview) called the proposal a “Band-Aid approach” and said he favors a permanent board to oversee the health bureau.
Under Mr. Suffredin’s plan, the new board would be appointed by several outside entities, including the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Illinois Public Health Assn. Two county commissioners also serve as trustees: the chairs of the county finance and health and hospitals committees.
A newly formed coalition of more than 60 patient advocacy groups and other nonprofits concerned about the direction of the county’s health system are backing Mr. Suffredin’s proposal. The group — which includes a few powerful unions — could exert some political pressure on commissioners to support the measure.

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