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Keep TB district, consultants advise

Thursday, July 29, 2004
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Consultants acknowledged Wednesday that Cook County's Public Health Department could take over handling tuberculosis in the suburbs if it maintained funding levels, kept experienced staff and made fighting the disease a priority.

The Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District hired the consultants, who recommended retaining that agency, saying it performs very well overall.

The consultants said they could not recommend folding the district into Cook County, as critics suggest, because they don't know enough about the county's public health operation.

County officials have pledged to keep the district's staff and to fund the program fully, saying they could take on the task immediately while providing more comprehensive health coverage through an integrated approach.

Dr. Eric Brenner, one of the consultants, said all of the elements that the tuberculosis district has in place must not be lost if another agency were to take over the responsibilities.

"In some sense, it doesn't matter who's doing it, just that they're doing it well," said Brenner, an epidemiologist who works for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. "Whoever does this in Cook County, they have a standard, and they can't go below that standard."

Brenner said the burden would be on the county to prove it could handle the job as well as the tuberculosis district.

Brenner said there were "uncertainties" regarding Cook County's health-services program because county officials refused to meet with him and the other consultants.

Sean McDermott, the county Public Health Department's director of policy, planning and government relations, said the meeting request came this spring as state lawmakers debated dissolving the district.

McDermott said the district used the meeting as a tactic to try to hold off a vote on the legislation.

The bill passed the Senate and is in the House Rules Committee. McDermott said the county hopes for a fall vote.

Critics of the district say the service could be provided more economically through the county.

The tuberculosis district budgeted $25,000 for the consultants' report, which found the district services are a good deal for taxpayers.



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