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Protest threat of city health clinic privatization

City clinic clients and community supporters will protest Tuesday against the threat of privatization at an event where Mayor Emanuel and Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair are speaking on “Transforming Healthcare in Chicago.”

Southside Together Organizing for Power and others – who stopped city efforts to close mental health clinics two years ago – will rally at 10 a.m., Tuesday, August 16, at the University Clulb, 76 E. Monroe.

Emanuel is said to be set to unveil a plan for the city’s health services next week [correction: it’s being released Tuesday, August 16].  In July he said he’d identified millions of dollars of savings by ordering city health clinics to partner with federally-qualified health centers, private nonprofits that operate clinics under federal grants and guidelines.

No details on how those savings would be accomplished have yet been forthcoming.

But last month, the city’s labor relations director wrote AFSCME Council 31 saying the city is considering contracting out services provided by its community health centers – and that job losses for union members could be expected.

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County health cuts opposed

The Emergency Network to Save Cook County Health Services is calling on the County Board to reject health cuts when it votes on a 2009 budget later this month.

Quentin Young and other leaders from the coalition of 70 groups will speak at a press conference Wednesday, February 18 at 9:30 a.m. at the County Building.

At recent public hearings on the budget, county leaders repeatedly stressed that the health system would not be touched, said Patrick Keenan-Devlin of Citizen Action-Illinois.

But at last week’s finance committee meeting, after commissioners approved a 4 percent across-the-board cut to the County Budget that exempted the health system — and after five commisioners had left the meeting — an amendment cutting the health budget by 2 percent (or $14 million) was approved. The vote was 8 to 4, with 5 absent.

“In this economy, with people losing their jobs and insurance, we can’t afford a county health system that is just getting by,” Keenan-Devlin said. “We need to be investing in health care services, not cutting back.”

He praised the work of the health system oversight board appointed in 2008. They’ve launched a “very thorough” national search for a new health and hospitals CEO and begun studying reimbursement issues (and asking for a functional accounting system), he said. The budget they submitted in December restored some cuts in ambulatory clinics and some nursing positions and restored cuts to Cermak Health Services at the County Jail, where the oversight board is seeking to address accreditation issues.

On top of the “draconian cuts in 2007,” Keenan-Devlin said, “the system cannot sustain further cuts.

“We believe the money is in the system, and there’s no need for cuts like this,” he said, pointing to County President Todd Stroger’s projection of a 25 percent decline in sales tax revenues this year, which he called unrealistic and inflated.

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