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County Health System To Pass Into Hands Of Independent Board
Independent Board Has 3-Year Lifespan

Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Northwest Herald

CHICAGO -- The Cook County budget approved last week will not only bring higher sales taxes, it will also bring major changes for the county's health care system.

For the busy Cook County Bureau of Health Services, the change will be the biggest since the move to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, NBC5's Charlie Wojciechowski reported.

In mid-May, the hospital and the rest of the county health care system will be under new management by an independent board of trustees. The board will have nine members who will be reimbursed for their expenses but will not be paid.

The health care management ordinance was part of a last-minute compromise that made possible the county's controversial budget, which passed Friday. The management change was celebrated Tuesday by Citizen/Action Illinois, a public interest group.

"We're taking the largest part of county government and we're transferring it away from the president's office, and we're putting it in the hands of professionals," said Larry Suffredin, a Cook County Board member and co-sponsor of the ordinance.

The management team will be chosen and approved by the Cook County Board on a fast-track timeline designed to address decades of problems with county health care. Sponsors of the ordinance are hopeful it will also help assuage more problems created by recent budget cuts.

We delivered about 80,000 less outpatient visits last year. We saw less patients overall," said Dr. Janice Benson, president of Stroger Hospital's medical staff.

Many of those patients sought out care at other local hospitals, Wojciechowski reported.

"We have to recognize, and I think our committee made it clear, that county (funding) going down meant huge negative impact on the private sector," said Dr. Quentin Young, the director of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group.

Among the first priorities of the new health management team will be to restore the county's 15 community-based health clinics.

But three years from now, all the powers vested in the new independent board will expire. Suffredin said that expiration was placed purposely to give the Illinois General Assembly a chance to take county health care out of the county board's hands entirely.

"For the three years that this is up and running, that we are going to see it do such a good job that it would be political suicide for anyone to try to take it down if, perhaps, the General Assembly doesn't act," Suffredin said.

Community groups like Citizen/Action plan to closely monitor the independent trustee board's progress over its three-year life.

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