Doctors: Budget cuts would be deadlyCook County Stroger proposal could mean $108 million reduction
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
by GUY TRIDGELL
Doctors in Cook County's Bureau of Health Services are warning that the consequences of massive budget cuts would be much worse than just laying off staff or closing facilities.
"People will die," said Dr. Simon Piller, an attending physician at the county's Robbins clinic.
With Cook County facing a $238 million budget gap and a plan to raise the sales tax going nowhere, county board President Todd Stroger is asking each department head to submit proposals to slash spending by 13 percent.
For the health bureau, Stroger's request could mean a $108 million reduction and the closure of Oak Forest and Provident hospitals, said Dr. Janice Benson, president of the medical staff at Stroger Hospital. The community health centers - including those in Ford Heights, Phoenix and Robbins - also would shut down, she said.
Although the county faces a Feb. 29 deadline to pass a budget, Stroger has yet to reveal his plans to raise the necessary revenue and stave off the cuts.
Benson said another round of cuts on top of the $87 million imposed last year would be catastrophic.
"It seems like they are playing politics," she said. "Meanwhile, our patients are suffering."
The county health bureau accounts for about 3.5 percent of all medical spending countywide, both public and private. But more than 75 percent of the bureau's outpatient service and 52 percent of its inpatient visitors do not have health insurance, according to county officials.
Piller said county patients who rely on public transportation are forced to transfer buses several times to reach a specialist or a pharmacy for medicine. Visits for patients with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, are taking months because of backlogs.
At the south suburban clinics, last year's cuts saw the number of full-time physicians drop from 11 to three.
"Very good people have left," Piller said. "There are skeleton crews keeping these clinics alive."
Dr. Mark Krause, president of the medical staff at Provident Hospital on Chicago's South Side, said the county's mission to provide medical care to people regardless of their income level is in jeopardy.
"We treat people from Palatine all the way to Beecher," Krause said. "We don't ask people for boundaries. When they show up, they get care."
Guy Tridgell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (708) 633-5970.
The medical staff of the Cook County Bureau of Health will host a rally at 10 a.m. Monday at 77 W. Washington St. in Chicago to protest the prospect of a 13 percent budget cut by the county board.