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Only Two Lobbyists Reported Contacting County Officials About Oak Forest Hospital Closing




Only Two Lobbyists Reported Contacting County Officials About Oak Forest Hospital Closing

The same lobbyists don't believe they're alone, and the Cook County Clerk's Office hopes to bring attention to it.

By Jesse Marx

August 12, 2011

In the last year, only two lobbyists have grabbed a Cook County official’s ear to discuss the closing of Oak Forest Hospital, according to data released by the Cook County Clerk’s Office.

Publicly, no one appears to have fought harder on behalf of keeping Oak Forest Hospital an inpatient clinic than William McNary, co-director of Citizen/Action Illinois (CAI) and member of the Southland Health Advisory Council.

McNary and CAI co-director Lynda Delaforgue are the only lobbyists in Cook County who reported meeting this year with county officials and members of the Cook County Health and Hospital Systems (CCHHS) and its independent board that has proposed closing most of Oak Forest Hospital as part of a long-range overhaul of countywide services.

On July 14, 2010, McNary reported meeting with Cook County commissioners Joan Murphy and Deborah Sims, both of whom voted against making CCHHS a permanently independent board last year.

Less than two weeks later, McNary then met with Cook County commissioners John Daley and Jerry Butler, who serves as one of CCHHS’ board of directors and chairs the county’s health and hospitals committee.

And this April, McNary and Delaforgue sat down with the CEO and chief medical officer of CCHHS.

The details of those meetings are not available, though McNary has made his opinions clear on television, at rallies, on his website and in print.

In a recent letter to the Chicago Tribune, he wrote, “The state's Department of Public Health has determined that the county's proposed closure of Oak Forest would leave Southland residents without adequate access to intensive care and long-term care beds, while overburdening other area hospitals.”

McNary once supported the independence of the board governing CCHHS, but he has since turned a critical eye. In his letter he went on to note that “abandoning the poor and sick in the region's most medically underserved area is simply not an option."

He continued, “The same folks who can spend many tens of millions on outside consultants and give themselves generous pay raises can find the necessary money” to maintain and also improve Oak Forest Hospital.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the county health system spends $2 million a month to maintain an emergency room and inpatient beds at Oak Forest Hospital.

Three times this year, including once this month, the state’s hospital planning board has rebuffed the county’s plans to transform Oak Forest Hospital into an outpatient facility.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board is expected to vote Aug. 16 on the latest version of the county’s proposal, which would leave a 24-hour urgent care center in Oak Forest.

In January and July, lobbyists in Cook County are required to file information about their phone calls, meetings, emails, letters and text messages with public officials. Even a conversation on the street regarding public policy is supposed to be reported to Clerk David Orr.

Given all the attention, it’s difficult to imagine that only McNary and one of his associates have lobbied county officials on this contentious issue.

Since the Cook County Clerk’s Office began posting lobbying information online, in 2010, the number of reported contacts with public officials has gone up, according to Courtney Greve, senior public information officer under Orr.

Still, the Clerk’s Office “believes more lobbying is done than is actually reported,” she said, “and the point of putting it online is to bring attention to that.”

Lynda Delaforgue, co-director of CAI, said she knows for sure that other lobbyists have contacted county officials, but, “It’s pretty much of an honor system in terms of who reports. Because we’ve worked a long time for finance reform and transparency in government, we take our reporting pretty seriously.”


Link to Oak Forest Patch story here