County hires law firm to explain health plan
Monday, April 11, 2011
by Phil Kadner
Cash-strapped Cook County has hired a private law firm to convince the state it must close Oak Forest Hospital.
Last month, the Illinois Health Facilities and
Services Review Board stunned county health officials by announcing its
intention to keep the county-run hospital open.
Cook County Health and Hospital Systems had no contingency plan in place to keep Oak Forest running beyond June 1.
Facing a devastating setback to its long-term
strategic plan, Cook County’s independent health and hospitals board
hired the law firm of Holland and Knight at “up to $60,000” to represent
it before the state planning agency.
Listed as one of the firm’s partners on the
Holland and Knight website is Anne M. Murphy, former chief counsel for
the Illinois Department of Health and former general counsel to the
Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services
Review Board was known as the Health Facilities Planning Board before
pay-to-play scandals during the Rod Blagojevich administration resulted
in the agency changing its name and its rules.
It is now illegal to lobby members of the state health board, who must approve plans to open or close hospitals in Illinois.
I telephoned Murphy and she confirmed she would
be acting as a consultant to Cook County and likely represent it before
the state panel.
The state health planning agency does not have
its own full-time staff but uses members of the Illinois Department of
Health staff, where Murphy also served as legal counsel.
It was the staff of the Illinois Department of
Health that initially recommended that the state agency turn down the
county’s plan to close Oak Forest, contending that nearby hospitals did
not have the capacity to take on the resulting patient load.
Department of Health staffers also called into
question the county’s schedule for creating a new intermediate care
facility to serve the south suburbs.
William Foley, the CEO for the county’s health
systems board, has since announced his intention to step down, claiming
that his decision had nothing to do with the state’s rejection of his
The Cook County Health and Hospitals board operates Stroger, Provident and Oak Forest Hospitals.
It has been cutting services at Oak Forest Hospital for years and has relocated all but five of its long-term patients.
Due to its multimillion-dollar budget shortfall,
the county claims it can no longer fund all three hospitals and has
recommended closing Oak Forest Hospital and replacing it with a regional
treatment center offering outpatient care in a number of medical
Oak Forest would no longer offer inpatient care.
After the state panel told Cook County last month
it intended to deny its request to shutter Oak Forest, I was curious as
to what authority the state had to make sure the hospital continued to
offer quality services if it remained open.
How could it stop Cook County from cutting some more, or simply eliminating all funding to the hospital?
A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Health sent me a copy of a state statute that reads:
“Any person establishing, constructing, or
modifying a health care facility or portion thereof without obtaining a
required permit, or in violation of the terms of the required permit,
shall not be eligible to apply for any necessary operating licenses or
be eligible for payment by any State agency for services rendered in
that facility or portion thereof until the required permit is obtained.”
Another section of the rules allows for fines of $10,000 for each 30-day period of a violation of the statute.
Of course, Cook County has already essentially gutted Oak Forest without the state imposing any of those penalties.
What I found more interesting was a statement
from the spokeswoman for the Health Facilities and Services Review Board
about the likelihood that it would eventually refuse to close Oak
“The board historically has not pushed for a complete denial of an application to discontinue services,” stated Melaney Arnold.
“In the past, the board has issued a permit, but only with conditions that specifically address medical needs of the community.”
As I read that, Cook County merely has to offer a
plan to address the concerns already brought up by the state and it
will get its permit to close the hospital.
Cook County health officials, however, have said
they must first close Oak Forest in order to come up with the money to
offer health care programs to the south suburbs.
I don’t know what this private law firm is going to do to help the county, which already has lawyers on its payroll.
It seems strange that they can explain better
than county health officials how the county health plan is going to
actually help people.