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County Board’s health reform plan blasted

Reports that Todd Stroger is giving up control of Cook County hospitals may be overstated, according to a coalition of health care and civic organizations.

Among problems with a new County Board proposal for an independent health governance body, announced this week by Commissioner Gregg Goslin, are provisions for Stroger to appoint all its members and for the County Board to approve its budget.

The proposal for an advisory committee to suggest members for the new health board is no more than window dressing, said Patrick Keenan-Devlin of the Emergency Network to Save Cook County Health Services.  Stroger “would not be required to adhere to the committee’s suggestions,” he said.

Allowing the President of the Cook County Board to appoint all members of the new board “will leave it beholden to his interests,” said William McNary of Citizen Action/Illinois. “The Goslin plan would only continue the status quo, which is rapidly weakening America’s second-largest public health system.”

The Emergency Network is a coalition of 70 health, civic, labor and community groups which is calling for an “emergency trusteeship” for the county’s health system.

The coalition is calling for an interim health board composed of seven members named by area health organizations and one by the County Board president.  The interim board would operate the health system for the next three years and formulate plans to transition to a permanent independent governance body.  Commissioner Larry Suffredin has submitted an ordinance reflecting the network’s proposal, Devlin said.

A permanent solution will require “a lot more study and community input,” he said.  “The decision should really be vetted.”

Stroger has said he would not support a health board on an interim basis, or one that did not carry its own taxing authority (County Board approval for the independent body’s udget would still be required under the scheme).  Devlin called these positions “delaying tactics” — especially since a new taxing body would require state legislation.

The advisory committee headed by Rush University CEO Larry Goodman reported in October “that we have a crisis and we need to act quickly,” Devlin said. “They have not.  And this proposal has the potential to delay reform even further.”

In the meantime, waiting times for primary care appointments run from six to nine months, medical staff are leaving.  Services for women are bearing the brunt of the County’s health cuts, according to leaders of local women’s organizations speaking at an Emergency Network forum last month; the closing of clinics has meant that thousands of women face longer waits or loss of access altogether for mammograms and other crucial services.

In addition, taxpayers and legislators at all levels are leery of providing funding for the system as it is currently being run, Devlin said.

“The creation of an independent interim board of trustees is the best and quickest way to regain public faith,” said Quentin Young of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group. “

“Taxpayers must believe and see that the system is being managed and administered competently, transparently and without political interference,” Young said in a statement from the Emergency Network.   The Bureau of Health Services should be “placed under the authority of a temporary trusteeship that can act boldly to avert the immediate crisis and enact fundamental reforms,” he said.

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Category: Cook County, health

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