The finance committee of the
independent Cook County Health and Hospitals System board ignored a
plea Friday from Cook County President Todd Stroger to slow down on a
plan to engage in consolidated purchasing for the hospitals.
Stroger had sent the panel a letter Thursday night,
asking members to hold off on the vote because he feared it would cut
minority and female vendors out of the loop.
But the finance committee, led by Chairman David
Carvalho, pressed ahead, saying the new arrangement with a
group-purchasing organization has been contemplated for decades and was
"To those that say this is being rushed, I'd say it's
been 18 years," said Carvalho, after recounting the history of numerous
attempts to enter into a group-purchasing arrangement.
Hospitals CEO Bill Foley urged the board not to delay
the vote, later noting it will save $20 million to $30 million annually
and is a given in the industry.
"I don't even call it a best practice. It's just a standard practice," said Foley.
In the end, by a unanimous voice vote, the panel
approved contracting with UHC/Novation, an Oak Brook-based nonprofit
buying organization that purchases supplies for hospitals across the
nation. By buying in volume, they often can provide hospitals with
cheaper supplies. The group charges companies with which it contracts 3
percent or less for its operating costs. Any money left over after that
is then kicked back to member hospitals, officials said.
Immediately after its vote, the panel also approved a
$50 million, two-year contract with Owens & Minor, a Virginia
medical supply distributor that the GPO will utilize.
That is where many of the complaints from individual
vendors stemmed. Businessmen and businesswomen said that GPO groups and
distributors, despite Novation's protestations, do not work with small
or minority-owned businesses, even when they are the lowest bidder.
Novation representatives noted they have several
minority companies they regularly work with, but critics say those are
national companies, which will leave small, local companies out of the
But Foley noted that the hospital system is not
obligated to go with Novation for any purchase, and can even solicit
bids directly in addition to what Novation brings to the table.
Further, Novation will be responsible for meeting the county's
requirement of 35 percent minority participation in contracts, Carvalho
and Foley said.
Betty Hancock-Perry, the county's contract enforcement
chief, opposed the vote and said that Novation had not responded to
multiple requests for information from her office.
Lamont Robinson, Novation's diversity chief,
acknowledged Novation had been nonresponsive to the inquiries, but said
the former employee responsible for that had been replaced, and he
would now be in charge of things.
"We heard a lot of that (complaints). That's the reason
they decided to bring that all in under me," said Robinson to
While the panel pressed ahead Friday, the contracts
with Novation and Owens & Minor still need to be drawn up and
presented for another vote before the board before taking effect.