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Cook Co. shouldn't run health facilities, groups think

Friday, October 12, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Rob Olmstead

The pressure to turn Cook County's health care system over to an independent board is likely to reach a fever pitch next week, with at least one group and possibly two making that very recommendation.
A consortium of 70 groups, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union, as well as Public Action Illinois and health expert Dr. Quentin Young, will recommend that the county temporarily submit the bureau to a trusteeship to run it, said a source in the group.
That source's information was, in turn, confirmed by Young and AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall.
The two said their chief concern -- and goal in recommending independent oversight -- is restoring confidence to the public that John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital and the other bureau facilities are being run responsibly. Without that confidence, garnering support from taxpayers to keep the critical health care safety net alive is an almost impossible task, they said.
"To turn the county health system around, we need to begin by restoring public trust in the administration of the system," said Lindall. "And that can best, and perhaps only, be done with truly independent and expert outside administration."
Young agreed. "We have to point out the absolute incompetence and corruption Ö of county government," Young said. "The public Ö has no confidence in that agency."
With independent leadership in place temporarily, the county board and the public could take time to decide if permanent trusteeship or some other sort of independent oversight is needed, Lindall said.
Young acknowledged the group is recommending a temporary measure, but said he personally feels permanent change is needed.
That thinking is reported to be the same as that of a blue-ribbon panel Cook County Board President Todd Stroger appointed soon after he was elected. Among its leaders is Larry J. Goodman of Rush University Medical Center, who supports an independent board, said Republican Commissioner Gregg Goslin of Glenview.
Two sources familiar with the blue-ribbon committee confirmed the group is leaning toward recommending the independent governance, and its formal report could come as early as next week.
That the blue-ribbon panel is leaning toward independent governance is not a surprise. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was instrumental in forming the panel and supports that stance, sources said. Durbin's office declined to comment.
Goslin said he does not favor the temporary trusteeship approach advocated by the consortium of groups, because he believes they simply want to protect jobs and get rid of Bureau Chief Dr. Robert Simon and system CFO Tom Glaser. Both were brought in last year to try to turn around the system's finances, and Goslin supports them.
Lindall declined to criticize either Simon or Glaser, but Quinn agreed he is not happy with Simon's leadership.
What exact form both groups' recommendations take remains to be seen, but the fine points of how independent governance would take place are likely to distinguish the two plans from one another.
"The devil's in the details," Goslin said.
Stroger's office would not comment on the contents of either impending report, saying merely he had been in discussions over governance at the bureau and he eagerly awaits a final report.
A source with the consortium said Stroger was cool to their recent presentation, and Goslin said he believes Stroger is more receptive to the blue-ribbon panel's approach.

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