The beleaguered Cook County hospital system appears poised to make a comeback.
After two-years worth of cuts to health clinics, women's and pediatric care, and dozens of other essential services, funding will be restored to these sectors at the start of 2009. By garnering the county commissioners' approval of their $930 million budget proposal, the new Health and Hospitals System Board of Directors proved that they can operate free of political influence.
No amendments were tagged onto the spending plan
(despite an attempt by some suburban Republicans to expand a community
health initiative). Had they done so, it would have presented a major
setback for the hospital board members who've embraced the monumental task
of fixing the failing system, said Patrick Keenan-Devlin, a health care lobbyist with Citizen Action. "It would have undermined their independence from the beginning," he said.
Under the proposal -- which includes a $77 million spending increase over the current year -- 400 new doctors and nurses will be hired. Current staffers are also set to receive cost-of-living raises.
With the ranks of the uninsured skyrocketing to now include 17 percent of the Cook County's population, immediate improvements in public health services are seen as critical to stabilizing the region's medical infrastructure.
Adding doctors and shortening lines at clinics and hospitals will attract people to the system and take some strain off local hospitals, Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-13th) said. Improvements are also in store for the poorly-run prison health system, which we've highlighted before.
The new programs won't come without a cost though. Within months, the hospital board expects to announce roughly 900 jobs cuts, likely to include many custodians and grounds workers. Payroll reductions, coupled with a plan to chase millions in federal and insurance reimbursements, should do more than just get the faltering system back on track.
"By the end of next year I think we're going to be talking about surpluses," said Suffredin, a Democrat who represents the Far North Side of Chicago and some northern suburbs. "We'll be able to reinvest that money in additional health services."
It was Suffredin who helped broker the deal that wrestled the declining health care system away from the county's increasingly dysfunctional control last spring. In exchange for voting along with Board President Todd Stroger's controversial sales tax hike, Suffredin won support for an ordinance that transferred oversight of the health care system to an independent authority. In three years, the ordinance will sunset.
"We lost our way," Suffredin said. "The infrastructure for treating people was destroyed ... Now we have to rebuild it."