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10/23/2009

Stroger vs. Health Pros

  I got an e-mail news release a couple of days ago from the office of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.  The headline read "Stroger Condemns Health Layoffs as Assault on Care for Uninsured, Poor and Unemployed".  It went on to explain that the county's health system, now overseen by an independent governing board, wants to layoff hundreds of front-line workers.  And Stroger contends that if the employees who include nurses, food service workers, dieticians, cooks, clerks and others are fired, the action could "undercut health care needs in Chicago and the suburbs".

  Wait a minute.

  Weren't the county's public hospitals (3) and clinics (16) put under the control of an independent governing board last year and re-named the Cook County Health and Hospital System?   The change was made so that professional healthcare managers could run the system and not political hacks.  The pros have apparently decided they can reduce the number of positions (most of them vacant) by as many as 1300 in the next two years and still provide the same amount of service.  But Stroger, who to my knowledge has no expertise in healthcare management, is suggesting in his news release that he knows better the staffing needs of hospitals and clinics.

  A week ago, this reporter had a lengthy "sit down" with the newly appointed Health and Hospital System CEO William Foley.  He told me that when CCHHS managers reviewed the employee list at Oak Forest Hospital, for example, they counted 120 food service workers.  Oak Forest, in the far south suburbs, has an average of only 60 inpatients a day.  The layoff's "condemned" by President Stroger include 75 food service workers at Oak Forest.

  By the way, the new management team improved efficiency so much during its first year, it actually returned $80 million of its subsidy to the county board.  We're also told that wait times for surgery at Stroger Hospital and in the county's notorious pharmacies have been reduced dramatically.

  So why is President Stroger "condemning" CCHHS?  It seems like the county's public health system is running better than it did when Stroger took office three years ago. 

  And it makes you wonder why the President isn't making that point as part of his struggling re-election campaign.

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