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New CEO should serve better plan

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
by SouthtownStar editorial staff

The surprise exit of the Cook County hospital system’s top executive might not spell a victory for Oak Forest Hospital. But it sure can’t hurt its case.

CEO Bill Foley’s decision to resign to take a job in the private sector comes less than a week after a state review board decided to slow the county’s fast-track closing of Oak Forest Hospital.

Foley, the first person to lead Cook County’s independent hospital system, became a controversial figure in the Southland as he moved aggressively on a plan to close inpatient services at the south suburban hospital.

That plan included a vague promise of an extensive outpatient center with specialists and primary care physicians — one that, while at least mitigating the loss of a real hospital for the indigent and poor, apparently had neither a timetable or projected costs.

Monday, a state regulatory panel offered a glancing blow to the health system’s plan to close Oak Forest as an inpatient facility, one that treated in the range of 100,000 patients in 2009 alone.

Certainly Foley shouldn’t be judged on this alone. The 60-year-old Foley, who holds a master’s degree in hospital administration, came to Cook County in May 2009, heralded as a turnaround specialist and a welcome change from patronage-laden, old-style oversight.

His appointment ushered in a new era of an independent and professional board — in contrast to its last overseer, then-county board President Todd Stroger.

Foley moved quickly to try to right a listing ship, laying off hundreds of workers in the process, a move that brought criticism, particularly as he collected a $500,000 salary.

We have been clear opponents of the Oak Forest plan’s failings. But we’ve never believed that Foley had motives beyond trying to salvage decades of mismanagement and fiscal disorder. Certainly he was a welcome change to Stroger’s leadership. Foley was smart and focused and willing to listen to the public, though imperious in attitude at times.

But his plan for Oak Forest Hospital’s future needed more time in the slow cooker before being served.

We call on the next leader of this hospital system to be reasoned and insightful, cost-cutting and bold, but to realize that the south suburbs matter.

We might not fight as loudly or have as many powerful political advocates as other areas, but we won’t give up easily.

We demand a plan that’s fully cooked before we join any new CEO at the table.

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