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Editorial: County health board choices are critical

Sunday, April 27, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times

On Monday, Todd Stroger faces a critical decision regarding the county's health-care system.

That's the deadline for the Cook County Board president to pick nine names, out of a list of 20 nominees, to make up a new, independent board to oversee the three hospitals the county runs and the rest of its health care system.

The county system is in critical condition. Over the years, it has been a dumping ground for political hacks. But for Cook County residents who have little or no health insurance, it has been the place to turn to when a child breaks an arm or that nagging cough just won't go away.

Even if you've never had to go to Stroger Hospital or a county clinic, how well the system is run still matters to your health -- the health of your pocketbook. The county health-care system costs nearly $1 billion a year, so an independent board that runs things more efficiently can only be a boon to taxpayers.

And remember, this independent board came at a big price -- more than $400 million a year.

That's the sales tax increase the Cook County Board grudgingly gave Stroger earlier this year in return for his promise to create the the health care board, which is intended to put the hospital and clinics into the hands of true professionals -- and take it out of the hands of the politicians.

The key flaw in the deal is that the board's existence is guaranteed for only three years. And while there may be ways to extend the board's life beyond that, all the more reason now to get the right people on the board right away so they can get to work. They will have so little time as it is to reform such a politically abused behemoth.

We have reviewed the list of 20 nominees forwarded to Stroger by a selection panel run by Richard Sewell, of the Illinois Public Health Association, and Dr. Larry Goodman, head of Rush University Medical Center. The panel has done a good job. The list includes plenty of solid choices, including many medical professionals.

Stroger could, of course, try an end run around the list.

But that would be a slap in the face to the public and to his critics on the county board who dared to trust him on this one.

As we said in an editorial just two days ago, Stroger need only do good work to get good press.

Let the good work begin, Mr. President.

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