More layoffs loom at county health system

  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • August 26, 2009 @ 2:10 PM

Nearly 500 Cook County Health and Hospitals System workers would lose their jobs in the next year under a budget plan introduced to system board members this morning.

Interim Chief Operating Officer Tony Tedeschi said the cuts would save the health system about $60 million in fiscal year 2010. The “placeholder” budget is based on a possible 19 percent reduction in spending, a scenario requested by County Board President Todd Stroger, who is preparing for the possible loss of revenue from a 1 percent sales tax.

Health system spokesman Lucio Guerrero said the cuts will be across the board, but officials won’t know specifics until the health system’s strategic plan is completed in November.

“These are straightforward opportunities, areas where we can reassign workloads and make changes,” Tedeschi said of the 467 jobs. Layoffs would begin this fall and would conclude with another round in the spring.

The health system has initiated plans to eliminate about 900 jobs already this year, saving an estimated $80 million. In all, 1,300 vacant and occupied jobs will be axed between this year and next.

Board members approved a resolution that allows the board to shift funds around when needed rather than get permission from the county board.

 “I think they want to make sure that we are treated as a free enterprise and can make decisions about our budget without having to go back and forth to the county,” Guerrero said.

In other business

Board members heard a report on the county’s preparations for the expected return of the H1N1 flu virus, better known as swine flu. Dr. Bob Weinstein told the board last spring’s outbreak was a good preparatory drill for what may come, and urged the public to get seasonal flu vaccines.

Cermak works for accreditation

Board member Dr. David Ansell told colleagues that Cermak Hospital, which serves inmates of Cook County correctional facilities, is taking the first steps to regain its accreditation, which it voluntarily relinquished in 2006 due to budget cuts and its lack of electronic records. The National Commission on Correctional Health Care oversees hospitals like Cermak.

Cermak reapplied for accreditation in July. While it is not required, accreditation is considered important to be seen as an acceptable facility. The health system’s push to adopt an electronic records system should work in Cermak’s favor.

New Web site comes with a cost

The health system debuted a new Web site, www.cookcountyhealth.net, a few weeks ago. It’s an improvement over the last version, which tied the independent board closely to county government. The new site, which will eventually include links to all contracts and bids, was built by a company called ACS Healthcare Solutions.

The board approved a contract amendment that would cover 10 paid IT positions, earning more than $10,000 a month. The $1.2 million contract amendment would allow ACS to provide 10 information technology specialists to the health system to augment its current staff.

The board also approved $80,000 for ACS to develop a mock Web site for the health system to test the functionality of the new site.

GPO questions

The board’s recent decision to use a group purchasing organization for medical supplies has local business owners up in arms. Using a GPO would save the county $20 million this year, board members said in the spring.

Now, some board members are wondering just how that will happen. The contract with UHC/Novation has yet to be signed, and with only a few months left in the year, board members are eager to move forward.

“This year’s coming to an end and we’re supposed to save $20 million with the GPO,” said chairman Warren Batts. “Light some fire.”

Contract conundrums

Board members expressed concern that the county may be spending too much money on radiology.

It approved a contract worth almost $10 million for services provided by Chicago Radiation Oncology, a private firm. The county uses it because it lacks radiology equipment at Stroger Hospital.

The equipment costs between $3 million and $4 million.

The board declined to vote on a contract for ink cartridges. The contract would have cost the county more than $835,000. But the company, Ready Data, Inc., was charging twice as much as the lowest bidder. Other bidders, procurement director Leslie Duffy said, could not verify their minority status.

“This seems outrageous,” Ansell said. After discussion, board members declined to award Ready Data the contract, which would have lasted for two years.

Even if they had approved it, and later wanted to get out of the contract, the health system could have, since it reserves the right to cancel contracts with a 30-day notice.

Spanish-language town hall

The board concluded the first six scheduled town hall meetings, which solicited public feedback for the strategic plan.

On Sept. 9, it will conduct a Spanish-language town hall meeting at West Side Technical Institute, 2800 S. Western.

Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.

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