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New board to control Cook health system by May

Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Crain's Chicago Business
by Mike Colias

(Crain’s) — Control of Cook County’s health system will be in the hands of an independent board by mid-May, a county commissioner said Tuesday.

The nine-member board’s first priority should be to appoint an interim health chief to replace interim chief Robert Simon, said Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston.

Mr. Suffredin engineered a deal with County Board President Todd Stroger last week that led the county board to shift control of the health system to an independent body for a three-year period. During 11th-hour budget negotiations early Saturday, Mr. Suffredin agreed to give Mr. Stroger the ninth vote he needed for an increase in the county’s share of the sales tax increase, from 0.75% to 1.75%.

“We’re taking the largest part of county government and shifting it away from the president’s office and into the hands of professionals,” Mr. Suffredin said at a news conference Tuesday.

Mr. Suffredin said outside oversight will end the patronage and mismanagement that has plagued the health system, which treats 1 million mostly indigent patients a year. He’s hopeful the governance change will give Illinois’ congressional delegation greater incentive to fight for more federal funding for the county health system.

Mr. Stroger appointed Dr. Simon in December 2006 to oversee a restructuring of the Bureau of Health Services, which led to roughly $100 million in cuts last year. A spokesman for Dr. Simon didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

A slate of 20 candidates for the new board will be selected by a nominating committee of civic and health groups, including the Civic Federation of Chicago, the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Chicago Medical Society. The county board president will select nine of those candidates to make up the new board, subject to approval from the board of commissioners.

A coalition of 70 community groups and unions that campaigned for the governance shift hailed the reform.

“We can move forward to make the Bureau of Health Services one of the finest health care systems in America,” Rev. Al Sharp, executive director of the Protestants for Common Good and a member of the coalition, said in a statement.

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