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Contractors get another shot at hospital deal

Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

A contractor who could have brought in millions for cash-strapped Cook County was booted out of Stroger Hospital on Tuesday by commissioners who wanted to give other firms -- some of whom are major campaign donors -- another crack at sharing the work.
The decision infuriated hospital officials who said the contract was vital to boosting revenue at the county hospital system, which already is projected to finish the year $50 million in the hole.
The county health bureau's chief operating officer, Tom Glaser, said it was clear commissioners were influenced by competing companies angry about not getting a share of the work.
"The other contractors were sitting right behind (the commissioners) and passing them notes," Glaser said.
Board members in July approved a $4 million contract for Chamberlin Edmonds to do on-site billing work at Stroger Hospital.
Chamberlin is one of four companies working for the county under similar contracts to do what's called "patient eligibility." The companies get county patients approved for federal programs such as Medicaid, allowing the county to bill those programs every time they treat the patient.
As reported in the Daily Southtown, Board President Todd Stroger's new hospital management team believes one of those contractors, Great Lakes Medicaid, was getting a greater share of the work under past administrations because of personal relationships between former hospital staff and the company.
Chamberlin was able to get patients qualified for federal programs about 15 percent of the time; Great Lakes succeeded about 9.5 percent of the time.
"These are objective reasons we picked them," health bureau chief Robert Simon said. "We have no relationship -- with any of these companies."
Great Lakes and its owners have donated at least $21,900 to the campaigns of county politicians since 2000, according to state records. Chamberlin Edmonds has donated nothing.
Canceling the contract will force the hospital to dedicate more of its finance workers to billing tasks, Simon said.
Glaser said canceling the deal will lose the county somewhere between $1 million and $10 million this year.
That wasn't good enough for the county board, which voted 12 to 4 to overturn their previous vote and cancel the contract.
"This whole contract blindsided the other vendors," Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman (R-Orland Park) said. "We're looking for some kind of fairness."
"What we've been hearing from some of the vendors is that they'd be willing to work for a quarter of this," Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) said. "Vendors who have been faithful to us deserve an opportunity."
Glaser said all four contractors had a chance to apply for the new, expanded contract, and only Chamberlin made a reasonable and feasible offer.
"I strongly disagree that this was not fair," Glaser said. "Everyone was around the table and got the same information."


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