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A stacked deck

Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Chicago Tribune

If you were looking for qualified people to overhaul one of the worst-run public health systems in the country, would you pick someone who has already run a health center into the ground? Todd Stroger would and did.

Last week, the
Cook County Board president picked nine candidates for a supposedly independent board of directors to oversee the county's chronically mismanaged and patronage-riddled system of hospitals and clinics.

On Stroger's list: F. Daniel Cantrell, who in the late 1980s was president of the Mile Square Health Center on the West Side, which failed to pay more than $1 million in payroll taxes and went bankrupt.

Not an auspicious start.

A nominating committee gave Stroger 20 candidates and he chose nine. Stroger's list is heavy on Democratic insiders—Cantrell is an aide to U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.). David Carvalho is deputy director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Quin Golden is a former chief of staff at the state public health agency. Stroger also went for folks who are friendly to organized labor—Jorge Ramirez, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, and Barbara Hillman, a union attorney.

So Stroger guaranteed a majority of the board will have political/labor connections.

Yet he turned away some of the most respected people in health care. Stroger rejected Dr. David
Ansell, chief medical officer and vice president at Rush University Medical Center; Dr. Joseph Flaherty, dean of the college of medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Sister Sheila Lyne, president and CEO of Mercy Hospital & Medical Center; Dr. Carolyn Lopez, past president of the Institute of Medicine of Chicago and a former staffer at Stroger Hospital; and Dr. Carl Bell, president and CEO of the Community Mental Health Council and Foundation Inc.

Lyne was instrumental in reviving the Mile Square Health Center after Cantrell's crew drove it to bankruptcy. She ran Chicago's Health Department in the 1990s, and ran it very well.

But not well enough for Todd Stroger.

The nine candidates have to be approved by the Cook County Board. There are some good names here. Stroger's other four nominees are Heather O'Donnell, a health budget analyst at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability; Norman Bobins, chairman emeritus of
LaSalle Bank Corp.; Andrea Zopp, a former prosecutor who is executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Exelon Corp.; and Benn Greenspan of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

But there will be no majority on the board to force the transforming change the county health system needs. There will be no transformational figure, the maverick CEO who's not beholden to the Democratic machine.

So the Cook County Board should reject the entire panel and force the process to start over. Next time, maybe the nominating committee will do its homework. The chairman of the committee has said it didn't even know about Cantrell's connection to the failed

Mile Square

Send Stroger a new list of nominees. It could include some of the fine candidates on the original list—people Stroger rejected.

If the County Board meekly approves the Stroger Nine, chances are high that Democratic pols will continue to use the health system to reward friends, punish enemies and spread money around.

So let's start over. The odds are against it, but let's try one more time to force Stroger to accept a governing board that would represent the poor and powerless who depend on Cook County's health system and the taxpayers who pay for it.

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