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Failed clinic operator on county's health board list

Friday, May 02, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

One person on a list of potential directors for Cook County’s public health system ran a clinic on Chicago’s West Side that failed to pay more than $1 million in payroll taxes as it went bankrupt.

F. Daniel Cantrell, an aide to U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and former executive director of the Mile Square Health Center, is among 20 people on the health board nominee list. Cook County Board President Todd Stroger must select nine of them by Friday to serve on the independent board that will oversee the county’s vast Health Services Bureau.

Cantrell and others on the list were nominated by a committee set up by the County Board , the result of a compromise when the budget was approved Feb. 29 with a one-percentage-point increase in the county sales tax.

The nominating committee’s chairman, Richard Sewell of the Illinois Public Health Association, said the committee was not made aware of Cantrell’s involvement in Mile Square.

“We had so many options, maybe the majority of the group would have gone to someone else,” Sewell said. “Maybe, but I’m not sure.”

Sewell also said Davis’ congressional district has more hospitals in it than any other, which could make Cantrell’s boss a valuable ally in getting more federal funding for the health system.

Margie Schaps, executive director of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, sat on Sewell’s committee and nominated Cantrell. She said she was aware that Mile Square had financial problems.

“He did amazing work there,” said Schaps, who added Cantrell “would be a devoted, committed member of the board.”

In the late 1980s, Mile Square lost significant federal funding and went belly up. During the last three years of operation, it failed to pay more than $1 million in withholding taxes, according to court documents.

After the Internal Revenue Service filed a lawsuit against Cantrell and four other clinic leaders, Cantrell agreed he was partly responsible for the non-payment of more than $800,000 in taxes.

All except one of the other four were held responsible by a jury. One of those found liable was Lacy Thomas, the former head of Stroger Hospital who is under indictment on theft and official misconduct charges for alleged wrongdoing while he ran a public hospital in Las Vegas.

Cantrell, contacted at the West Side office he directs for Davis, said he did not think what happened at Mile Square should disqualify him from a spot on the board.
At the time, the clinic was in “a major struggle with the federal government” that led to the withdrawal of significant funding and sent the clinic’s finances into “a tailspin,” Cantrell said.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston), the architect of the legislation to create an independent county health board, did not comment directly on Cantrell’s involvement at Mile Square, but said it did indicate the need to fully vet the candidates Stroger selects.

“We are going to do a background check on all of the people,” he said, noting Stroger’s nominees require board approval before they can serve.
A Stroger spokeswoman said her boss is reviewing the names submitted to him by the committee.

“He definitely wants to make sure the board that is selected is above politics and above reproach,” Ibis Antongiorgi said.

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