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County panel OKs new health leader after grilling

Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times

Critics fired shot after shot at Dr. Daniel Winship.

But after two hours of questions about his personal beliefs, managerial skills and administrative abilities -- all of which he answered without flinching -- Winship is set to become the next Cook County health director.

The grilling by county commissioners didn't rattle the 70-year-old, whose nomination was unanimously approved in a committee hearing attended by all 17 commissioners. They are to formally approve his hiring July 13.

Winship, who is set to replace retiring Ruth Rothstein in August, survived an avalanche of rumors, including that he wasn't supportive of gay rights or abortion rights.

The National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood and Christie Hefner, head of Playboy Enterprises, wrote letters of concern about Winship's nomination.

Winship identified himself as pro-choice and a supporter of health care for all.

"One of the things I like so much about the Cook County Bureau of Health Services is it's our policy to take care of everybody who shows up and needs care," he said. "It must be without discrimination."

He later added, "I don't like abortion a whole lot and wish we didn't have to do it." He said there is a need for prevention "on the front end," though "I'm strongly in favor of a woman's choice."

Winship also addressed criticism from his tenure as head of Missouri's public health system, including a state audit showing millions lost because of poor management and collections.

Most problems, he said, preceded his tenure and the system is on the road to being profitable, he said.

Questions also arose over how he'll deal with problems in the county's $840 million health system.

Winship said he'll push to improve teaching and research arms, while also encouraging collaboration with universities, hospitals and clinics, something he said the county now does "very poorly."

Oak Forest Hospital, he said, needs an identity and "I doubt we have adequately utilized Provident Hospital," which he called "a doggone good little hospital."

He also said "whatever it is we do" with the old county hospital, "we need to get on with it, so we can utilize that space."

Bringing "a clinical dimension" to the job, Winship said his style is different from Rothstein's, though he said he'll likely take six months assessing the system and its needs before proposing major changes.

"My management style will not resemble hers -- we are very different," Winship said. "Take a poll later and see which one you like."

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