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Foley outlines big plans for Cook County health system

Friday, May 22, 2009
Chi-Town Daily News
by Alex Parker

In his first public board meeting this morning, new Cook County Health and Hospitals System CEO William Foley outlined his goals for the coming year, which include hiring key key executives and boosting performance within the hospital system.

Foley, who has endured a trial by fire in his first three weeks, coming up to speed amid harsh criticism of the health system's purchasing and hiring practices, discussed his three-, six- and 12-month goals for the system.

Foley said he's looking to establish an oversight office to monitor the system's performance, as well as the performance of various consultants helping the system improve efficiency.

"It's important to have somebody coordinating this so we don't have consultants on top of one another," he said.

The health system uses a number of consultants to monitor different parts of the system, including productivity and its revenue cycle.

By Sept. 1, Foley expects to have hired a public relations director, a human resources director and a compliance officer. He expects the independent board to certify its own purchasing office, as well. The health system has been working in tandem with the county purchasing office since it became independent of the county board last year.

Also by September 1, Foley said the system will have an agreement with a group purchasing organization, which provides pre-approved vendors from which the hospital can buy supplies.

Small business owners in Cook County have decried the plan, saying it will essentially end their ability to do business with county.

But system board chairman Warren Batts suggested this morning that business owners should view the group purchasing plan as an opportunity.

"The puzzle to me is that (minority- and women-owned businesses) that have been doing business with the county see this as a bad thing," he said. "This is a golden opportunity for them. They can increase their business by signing up."

But business owners have complained that they don't feel group purchasing would allow them to participate, and that the county would not consider them for business. System officials say they would consider local options for purchasing.

Batts said he believed group purchasing organizations would be receptive to allowing Cook County vendors to join, since the county has vetted them already.

"You're listening to a puzzled guy in here, wondering 'what's the problem?'" he said.

By December, Foley said, the system will have completed its staffing reduction. The system is eliminating about 500 jobs, through layoffs and attrition, to meet budget goals.

He also hopes to resolve the system's habit of slow payment to vendors, while growing the its revenue stream.

One board member told Foley it was important to focus on "changing the culture of the organization," a sentiment with which Foley agreed.

"We need to focus on the quality at the system level, not the (chief medical officer) level," he said, pointing to a need to spread the system's message among patients and staff.

The board is looking to do just that, as it is planning a series of town hall meetings in the county to discuss its strategic plan.

Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.

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