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Cook Commissioners vote to make independent hospital board permanent

Date: 
06/01/2010

By Alex Parker
June 01, 2010

Cook County commissioners overwhelmingly voted in favor of making the independent board governing the Cook County Health and Hospitals System permanent this morning.

The ordinance creating the health board in 2008 was set to expire next year.

Commissioners voted 13-3, with one absent, to make the board permanent.

But while the health board is now permanent, county commissioners say provisions in the amended ordinance would allow the health board to revert back to the County Board's control, if there were enough votes.

"This is one more step down the road to a better hospital system," said Commissioner Gregg Goslin, the measure's chief sponsor.

"I think we need to state to the world that independent board is doing the right thing in administering the hospital," said Commissioner Peter Silvestri.

Since taking the helm at health system last May, CEO William Foley has led efforts to improve efforts at enhancing revenue, cutting costs, training staff and preparing the health system for jarring changes that will come with national health care reform.

A long-anticipated strategic plan is due to the County Board in July, and it will transform the way health care is delivered in Cook County. Changes to Provident and Oak Forest hospitals are imminent, and there is talk of increasing service to far-flung parts of the county.

And though the health board has been heralded as a departure from the politicized nature of governing the County Board is accustomed to, it has not been free of criticism.

Local business fear their contracts with the county are drying up, after the health system entered into a group purchasing plan; unions complain of a lack of representation and others, including County Board President Todd Stroger, worry the health board has no accountability.

Some of those qualms were aired at the board meeting.

"Please explain why it is you want to pass a permanent board ordinance with the elections less than six months away. What’s the rush?" asked Christine Boardman, vice president of the Service Employees International Union Local 73. She and others complained of the lack of front-line staff on the board.

"Where's the inclusion?" Boardman asked.

William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action/Illinois and a member of the Emergency Network to Save Cook County Health Services, was a staunch supporter of the independent board. But his support has wavered, as he said there needs to be more community insight and fewer layoffs.

Some on the county board expressed concern about large salaries, a group purchasing program and the lack of diversity of the health board.

"Is independent truly independent when one body must go to another for financing?" Silvestri asked.

Commissioner Deborah Sims said there were too many questions unanswered for her to vote in favor of making the board permanent.

"We have to put the people first, and I think that's what this board has stopped doing," she said, calling the board "another level of bueracracy."

Health board Chairman Warren Batts acknowledged the board has made mistakes, but said the independent board is good for health care in Cook County.

"The public needs to know we’re there for the future so their tax dollars aren’t going to just disappear in actions a year from now," he said.

All three candidates for County Board president pledged to support making the health board permanent.

"I am proud of the Board for recognizing and acting on the wishes of voters, who rightly insist that we free our health and hospital system of politics and patronage once and for all," said Democrat Toni Preckwinkle, in a statement.

Republican Roger Keats could not be reached for comment, but Green Party candidate Tom Tresser said he was pleased with the development.

"I approve of that. I would make some changes to that board if I were in that position," he said. "I would add more community representation, more community practitioners … I’d change the face of that board a bit."

He said he thinks the board has too corporate a mindset now, and is uncomfortable that some health board members work for competing health care organizations.

Here's how commissioners voted:

YES
Butler
Claypool
Collins
Daley
Gainer
Gorman
Goslin
Moreno
Peraica
Reyes
Schneider
Silvestri
Suffredin

NO
Beavers
Murphy
Sims

ABSENT
Steele