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Independence of proposed Cook health system board questioned
Critics say members won't be independent

Saturday, January 26, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Deborah L. Shelton

A plan to create an independent board to oversee daily operations of the Cook County health system is coming under fire, even as the final details are hammered out.

The Cook County Task Force on Hospital Governance is finalizing a proposed ordinance that would give control of the county's hospitals and clinics to a seven-member board of directors picked by Cook County Board President Todd Stroger and approved by the commissioners.

Commissioner Gregg Goslin, who chairs the task force, said Friday that he plans to introduce the ordinance to the County Board within several weeks.

At issue, some critics say, is whether the new board can be truly independent if Stroger alone nominates its members, as opposed to consulting a nominating committee.

"All the day-to-day decisions on operations, contracts and hiring will be under the board of directors," Goslin said.

"The board and president will almost be taken completely out of this."

Larry Suffredin, another commissioner, has pushed for a temporary trusteeship to take over the health system until an independent board can be put in place. "I really believe that to be considered independent governance we have got to make sure this is a health care board, not just an extension of the current situation," he said.

The County Board president should not choose the health board, said William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action Illinois and a spokesman for the Emergency Network to Save Cook County Health Services.

"As far as we're considered, this is the status quo," he said. "We realize that the Cook County Board should have some input, but to have the president appoint all seven members doesn't pass the smell test to us."

The proposed ordinance also would create a county public health district with taxing authority, which the General Assembly would have to approve.

"The system has to have a means of being reimbursed for the services it provides," Goslin said.

The ordinance is expected to be brought up for a vote in February or early March after the county budget passes.

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