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Proposal for Cook Co. hospital takeover unveiled

Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

Cook County's hospitals and clinics would be turned over to a seven-member board of health professionals who would have taxing authority but whose budgets would still be ultimately approved by the Cook County board, under a proposal made public this week.

County Commissioner Gregg Goslin, a Glenview Republican, had planned to formally unveil the proposal Wednesday at a county board meeting, but the meeting was canceled out of respect for former President John H. Stroger, whose funeral is Wednesday.

Goslin is chairman of the Cook County Task Force on Hospital Governance, which was charged with exploring the best way to transfer day-to-day control of the hospitals from the county board to an independent governing body.

Although the group does not yet have a formal proposal, ordinances or legislative bills worked out, it has agreed on bullet points, Goslin said Monday.

Among the group's recommendations:

• The board would comprise seven health care professionals nominated by Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, but approved by the county board. Suggestions for the board would be forwarded to Stroger by a county health care group assembled by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and led by RUSH University Medical Center President Larry Goodman.

• The new seven-member board would select its own CEO and president.

• The system's board would have taxing authority, but its budget would be subject to final approval by the Cook County Board.

• All hiring and contract authority would be transferred to the health system board.

Board members could be removed by the county board, but only for cause -- or only if they deviated significantly from the county's health care mission by, say, turning the hospital into a plastic surgeon salon, Goslin said.

Last year saw a groundswell of support for turning the hospital over to an independent governing body after several reports said the county board was so mired in political hires and contracts that it could not run the hospital efficiently. Failure of hospital administrators to significantly increase their recovery of Medicare reimbursement dollars also added to the momentum.

"If (the new board) can gain the respect and trust of the community, there's going to be more federal dollars flowing in," predicted Goslin, who said no significant progress toward the plan will be made until after the county budget is approved, which by law must happen by Feb. 29.

But another county commissioner, Democrat Larry Suffredin of Evanston, still has his doubts about the structure Goslin is proposing.

He thinks the Goodman group is too financially focused and skewed toward RUSH. He would like to see more health care activists on a nominating committee, and he worries that legislative action could take too long to address the system's pressing problems.

Suffredin instead proposes an immediate trusteeship that could take place without legislative intervention.

That idea, though, is not likely to get support from the board president, according to his spokeswoman.

"President Stroger supports some type of (new) governance for the Bureau of Health," said Ibis Antongiorgi. "However, it should be a permanent solution, not a temporary solution like trusteeship. Basically, the president supports the idea of taking the politics out of the governing of the Bureau of Health."



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