Opponents of a controversial
purchasing agreement being pursued by the Cook County hospital system
are questioning the past connections of the hospitals' purchasing agent
to the winning bidder.
Leslie Duffy, the purchasing agent, worked from 2004 to
2007 for VHA Inc, the parent company of the supply-buying consortium
the hospital board recently voted to join, hospital COO David Small
confirmed Thursday, and prior to that, she worked for two years for the
consortium UHC/Novation, according to a copy of her resume.
Small, however, said it was Duffy who brought the
potential conflict of interest to his attention and that of hospital
board members, and she was removed from the process of picking which
consortium - or group purchasing organization - the county would join.
"That (prior employment) was disclosed to the board and
everybody that she did have that prior relationship," said Bill Foley,
CEO of the hospital system.
Still, officials conceded last week at a public meeting, that Duffy had a nonvoting role on the committee that picked Novation.
Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, an
opponent of the GPO process, said he'd like to know exactly what
Duffy's role was, and to see the minutes of that committee's
decision-making process. While hospital board members may have been
aware of the conflict, county board members were not, and they should
have been, said Moreno.
"I think so. Although we have no control over what the
(hospital) board does, we do have fiscal oversight," said Moreno, who
opposes the GPO process, in part, because he believes it will lead to
the exclusion of minority vendors.
"She had input because that's (purchasing) her area of
expertise, but in terms of influencing the decision, she was excused
from that," said Foley.
The hospital system used to be run by the Cook County
Board, but was separated last year, in part, because of concerns of
political influence over contracts.
A county ordinance requires that if hospital
administrators have a financial interest in a vendor, county board
members be notified of the conflict.
Small said he did not believe Duffy has any financial
interest in Novation, although he conceded she has "a retirement
program from them."
He did not know, however, if the plan's value was in any way dependent on the company's fortunes.
Proponents of the GPO process - which buys supplies in
bulk in an effort to save money - say it is now standard in the
hospital industry and a money saver.
Duffy declined to discuss the matter with the Daily Herald.