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Panel OKs overhaul of Cook County health system

Friday, June 25, 2010
Chicago Tribune
by Judith Graham

A major overhaul of Cook County's three hospitals and 16 clinics won an unanimous endorsement Friday from the independent board that manages the sprawling health system.
 
The board voted 10-0 to endorse the proposed overhaul, which would close inpatient services at Oak Forest Hospital, scale them back significantly at Provident Hospital and expand specialty services available at community-based clinics.
 
The plan now goes to county commissioners, which will consider it at a July 13 meeting.    The county board has final say over finances for the $860 million health system.
The proposal is an ambitious attempt to change course for the network, which has poured resources into hospital care to the detriment of other community-based services.
 
Unions have voiced strong objections to measures that would cut costs and threaten jobs at county medical centers.  The health system has shed nearly 1,000 jobs over the last year and is expected to lay off another 400 full-time employees in the months ahead, officials said.
 
Other health experts maintain that a new strategic direction is essential for the county health system, especially in light of the passage of national health reform earlier this year.
 
The proposed new strategy for the health network "is very well thought out," said Patricia Terrell, a former deputy chief of the system and currently a managing principle at Health Management Associates.
 
The plan calls for $143 million in new capital expenditures between 2011 and 2015 to build a new clinic in the north suburbs, upgrade existing clinics, and convert Provident and Oak Forest into major outpatient centers.  The money would come from the county.
 
It also assumes $310 million in savings over the five-year period, a sum that would pay for operating expenditures associated with the strategic overhaul.
 
The county's health system is the medical provider of last resort for about 800,000 residents of Cook County who lack health insurance.  Even when health reform kicks into high gear in 2014, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 county residents will remain uninsured.


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