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Health care overhaul needed in Cook County.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Medill Report
by Sri Raman and DAVID RIVELLI

“A mandate to clean house,” that’s how one Cook County Board member described a recommendation given to the board on Tuesday regarding inefficiencies in the county’s health care system.

That member, Commissioner Forest Claypool, who opposes Board President Todd Stroger, added that patronage under the Stroger administration is ruining the Cook County health care system.

“I would favor an independent board free of politics that would run the [Bureau of Health Services] on behalf of the poor patients that we serve,” Claypool said.

Claypool’s reaction was to recommendations made by a Stroger-appointed board that an independent panel be established to correct a projected 2007 shortfall of $69 million in the county’s health care costs. In 2006, the total cost was $848 million.

A presentation given by Dr. Larry Goodman, president and CEO of Rush University Medical Center and chairman of the Cook County Bureau of Health Services Review Committee, highlighted several major shortcomings that are plaguing the bureau. 

These included inefficient revenue collection, insufficient capital expenditures, poor financial planning and the exodus of many qualified physicians from the county hospitals.

Other commissioners, such as Jerry Butler (D-Chicago), were open to an independent entity overseeing the county’s health system with a condition that the board still controlled the finances.

“If we control the money then we still have to go and answer to the people,” Butler said, “and I’m not going to give somebody else the money that I have to answer for.”

Lawrence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, also agrees that the county should not sever its financial responsibility to the health care of the county’s poor.  However, Msall left no doubt about his backing for an independent panel to remedy an injustice to the county’s medical staff.

“We have excellent doctors in the system and they deserve excellent management,” Msall said.

The review committee recommended that Cook County doctors be given annual contracts. This recommendation was borne out of survey results that indicated low morale among county doctors. “The number of good physicians who have been at the county for many many years have left the system,” Goodman said. “And more important, according to the survey, many more are considering leaving.”

In a prepared statement, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger expressed his commitment to “ensuring that each of the Committee’s findings are provided with a full and open dialogue – and the next requisite steps – to ensure that Cook County implements recommendations required to ensure that the County’s health care system remains viable over the long term.”

Officials with several of the unions that represent county healthcare workers declined to comment on the issue until they had more of a chance to study the proposals.

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