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Cook County hospitals cut overtime

Friday, July 01, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Understaffed Stroger Hospital and other Cook County health facilities will need less overtime this year than in previous years, health bureau chief Daniel Winship said Thursday.

Winship requested the county board move about $15 million to his overtime budget at the county's annual mid-year budget adjustment meeting Thursday. The money comes from unspent funds set aside to pay regular wages.

Overall, Winship said the county's health services will spend about $38 million in overtime this year, down from about $56 million last year.

Winship said it's a result of policies he and the county board have adopted to reduce overtime costs.

Winship must personally approve all overtime in advance. He said he's only allowed it mostly for nurses and pharmacy staff, which are hard hit because the county has been unable to hire enough people.

"Since we put our rules in place, we've clamped down significantly," Winship said. He said overtime spending is down about 20 percent so far this year.

Winship and budget director Donna Dunnings earned rare praise from administration critic Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), who has complained repeatedly about the budget adjustment process.

Winship acknowledged Thursday that in previous years the county has always budgeted more money than it expected to spend on wages. Although Winship said all positions included in the budget are needed, they are never all filled. Hundreds of positions are left vacant at Stroger Hospital every year.

Overtime is needed to pick up the slack, which is why the county moves millions into the overtime budget every year.

Quigley has called that dishonest budgeting, saying the number of employees actually needed is inflated while the amount of overtime needed is hidden.

But Winship said he's trying to "reduce that practice" of budgeting this year and eliminate it as he plans the 2006 budget.

"I want to thank you and the budget staff ... because the transfers are down," Quigley said. "You deserve a lot of credit."



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