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New Provident exec has left trail of probes, questions

Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

In the 1980s, Houston prosecutors accused John Fairman of conspiring to defraud its public health system of more than $1 million.

In 1990, Fairman was fired after being accused of mismanaging Denver's public health system.

In 2000, a criminal investigation was launched in Washington, D.C., after Fairman was fired amid fraud claims and accusations he mismanaged its health system.

On Monday, Cook County Board President John Stroger introduced Fairman as the new chief operating officer at Provident Hospital.

That announcement came the same day the Chicago Sun-Times revealed that state inspectors have found "significant" health code violations at the South Side hospital -- and that those violations have put patients "at risk for serious harm or death."

Fairman was asked about his earlier problems as he got into an SUV owned by Digby's Security, a politically connected firm that provides security at Provident.

"I was not the subject" of the investigations, he said, admitting he appeared before a Houston grand jury where "they were calling everybody in," but "I don't know whatever came out of it."

The Houston investigation produced no charges against Fairman, but the IRS filed liens against him for unpaid income taxes.

Allegations in Denver were never criminal, but Fairman was accused of spending more than $5,000 a year on meals and travel, while making personal purchases with funds intended for state science and education programs.

In 2001, criminal investigators began probing whether contracts were improperly steered to certain companies while Fairman ran the D.C. public health system through the Public Benefit Corp.

That agency folded after Fairman's firing, drowning in $109 million in debts, and 1,600 employees were left unemployed.

Fairman comes to Cook County just three years after Stroger hired his brother, J.W. Fairman, as the county's public safety director.

Though Stroger praised John Fairman, critics said the recent troubles at Provident, coupled with Fairman's history, point to problems with Stroger's management of the $1 billion county health system, which includes four taxpayer-funded hospitals and various clinics.

"It's frustrating to watch," Commissioner Mike Quigley said.

Commissioner Forrest Claypool, who like Quigley is vying for Stroger's job, said "it's obvious President Stroger intends to change nothing at Provident."

Commissioner Tony Peraica, also running for Stroger's job, called the Illinois Department of Public Health findings startling. Among other things, inspectors alleged: a 2-day-old baby was left unattended and died; drugs were not kept in secure spots; and a security guard beat a patient.

Stroger, just back from the National Association of Counties conference in Honolulu and wearing a Hawaiian shirt, acknowledged problems at Provident, but said Fairman will help correct them.

State health spokeswoman Tammy Leonard said a September deadline has been set for fixing the violations. Medicaid funding could be cut or the state could provide direct supervision, but not a takeover, if changes aren't made.


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