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Health board seeks infusion
Cook system needs $103 million, more workers, chief says

Thursday, October 23, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

The new independent board overseeing Cook County's vast public health system wants an extra $103 million next year and permission to hire more than 400 new workers.

The panel's chairman is defending the request as a needed first step before the troubled operation can be made more efficient, with fewer employees and more money collected from patients and their insurers.

"In my 40 years of joining companies that had to be turned around, I have never seen anything like this," said board Chairman Warren Batts, who has served as a top executive at seven major corporations and once was chairman of Children's Memorial Hospital.

"We're operating on too much myth, too little training of people, particularly at the management level, and far too little information," he said. "We have 7,300 people. Our job is to find ways to legally sort out who can help us and who doesn't want to help us."

To that end, the board is conducting studies to determine how to cut about 500 employees. But the 2009 spending plan calls for adding about 415 workers, mostly doctors and nurses, because the skills of those who are needed in new spots and those who aren't needed in their current posts don't match, Batts said.

The board on Wednesday presented its suggested budget to County Board President
Todd Stroger and the 17 commissioners who must ultimately approve it as part of the county's spending plan for next year.

Health spending would rise to $950 million. Stroger, who this year won approval of a penny-on-the-dollar sales-tax increase, said he knew health spending would increase by at least $47 million, which will cover inflation and the cost of salary increases already approved by commissioners.

But Stroger said he did not know about plans to hire new employees or spend an additional $38 million on capital improvements, which Batts said were needed to maintain the quality of care.

Up to one-fifth of the new employees are needed to improve quality of care for those being held at Cook County Jail. Federal prosecutors have been harshly critical of health care at the jail.

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