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Cook County health services contract off the table

Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Special to
by Hal Dardick

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's administration Tuesday pulled from the table a multimillion-dollar contract to boost revenue for the county's public health system -- a day after it was disclosed the firm that was to get the contract had been named in the corruption indictment of a former Las Vegas public hospital official.

As a result, the County Board will not consider a three-year $18 million contract with ACS Healthcare Solutions at its meeting Thursday.

"We weren't sure that they could provide the economic-disclosure information that is required as part of the procurement ordinance," said Ibis Antongiorgi, a spokeswoman for Stroger.

But Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), who planned to oppose the contract, said ACS would already have filed an economic-disclosure statement for a county contract under which it provides technology services.

"I would assume that they had that information already, and this is a convenient way to cover themselves," he said.

Antongiorgi said she was referring to disclosure specifically as it related to the pulled contract.

Quigley also noted a Tribune story Monday that disclosed ACS was named in the indictment.

"Without that story, we were in the middle of this on Thursday," he said.

The ACS contract wasn't the only item pulled from Thursday's agenda. Also removed was a proposed ordinance that could have substantially changed one passed Friday, as part of an 11th-hour budget deal, to place the troubled Bureau of Health Services under an independent board of directors. Critics of the measure said it would have returned control of the agency to Stroger.

The new proposed ordinance was posted late Tuesday morning. After the Tribune asked about it, it was taken off the agenda. Antongiorgi said the legislation was pulled "so they can finalize the language."

Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-
Evanston), who gave Stroger the deciding vote to boost sales taxes, said he was told that the proposed ordinance was placed on the agenda in error, when only minor modifications to the ordinance passed Friday were supposed to be under consideration.

But Commissioner Gregg Goslin (R-
Glenview) said he understood that the measure, which he helped draft, was intended to replace the one passed Friday.

The pulled proposed ordinance, Suffredin said, "just gives total control [of health services] back to the president."

It was posted about 15 minutes after Suffredin began a news conference to defend his decision to back the sales-tax increase.

Though he broke from his fellow self-styled County Board reformers, Suffredin said he took that leap reluctantly to prevent a government shutdown -- and only in exchange for reform of health services.

"The change of governance is reform," he said.

Under the measure, drafted by Suffredin, an independent board will take control of health services within 70 days, he said. Suffredin said he hopes that the measure will ultimately lead to a separate governing board, with its own taxing authority, to oversee public health services.

Whether that is the ultimate result depends on the General Assembly, which would have to approve any such change before Suffredin's ordinance expires in three years.

Meanwhile, it was not certain that county government would have shut down as Suffredin contended. A lawsuit filed by Stroger and other county leaders sought to keep it running past the midnight Friday deadline to pass a budget while the board entered continuous session, with reasonable breaks, until a budget was approved.

Under the proposed contract that was pulled, ACS was to improve the county's bill collection at the Health Services Bureau by an additional $120 million during the next three years.

In Las Vegas, ACS allegedly received a sweetheart deal on terms "grossly unfavorable" to the
Nevada public hospital then run by the recently indicted Lacy Thomas, who once ran Stroger Hospital, the Health Services Bureau's largest institution. Prosecutors in Nevada said ACS was run by "longtime friends and associates" of Thomas.

An attorney for ACS said the allegations in the indictment "in our view are absolutely false."

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