County board talks health care, immigration

June 2, 2010 4:45:30 AM PDT
Tuesday was a busy day at the Cook County Board meeting as commissioners dealt with several important issues.

The topics of the day included healthcare and Arizona's immigration law.

The county board voted Tuesday morning to make permanent the temporary structural change it made two years ago in its public healthcare system. That means the politicians will only concern themselves with funding the system and will have nothing to do with administration, including hiring and firing.

Making the independent health governing board permanent was the first order of business for county commissioners.

"I think that we need to state to the world that this independent board is doing the right thing to administer the hospital," said Commissioner Peter Sylvestri (R-Elmwood Park).

The vote was 13-3 with one member absent. It meant that Cook County's three hospitals and 16 clinics would continue to be controlled by a panel whose majority is made up of healthcare professionals beyond 2011. The panel is separate from the politically-charged county board.

"This is a massive turnaround for this health care system," said Cook County Health & Hospitals System Chairman Warren Batts. "It's going to take at least three to five more years to get where it needs to be."

The independent board is credited with saving the county tens of millions of dollars since it took over the system in 2008. Its opponents complain that the system's new administrators make too much money and that too many front line workers are being laid off.

"Even though we think this board has done a good job in trying to restore the faith, there are a lot of questions that are unanswered that need to be answered before we go forward," said William McNary of Citizen Action Illinois.

In other action, the board passed a resolution forbidding the county from doing business with companies based in Arizona because of the western state's new law against illegal immigration.

"I cannot live in good conscience, be a member of this board, and not bring this issue to the table," said Commissioner Edwin Reyes (D-Chicago). "The law that the Arizona legislature passed specifically prohibits profiling - it is not about profiling, it is about politics and posturing," said Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-Riverside).

The board approved the anti-Arizona resolution. Minutes later, it considered an ordinance to end its relationship with an Arizona-based company that installs red light cameras.

"It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to see that this whole thing smells," said Commissioner Timothy Schneider (R-Bartlett). "I mean, this is awful."

Despite its bluster a few minutes earlier, the board decided to do business with the Arizona company and will save its boycott for some other time.

"We have to send a strong message," said Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno (D-Cicero). "We're the second largest county in the country, and for a state of ours to do this to anybody of color is absolutely just wrong."

The anti-Arizona resolution would become effective as soon as it is signed by County Board President Todd Stroger. That is not expected to happen for at least another few days.

However, it was interesting watching the board break the spirit of the vote it took just a few minutes earlier. A principal in the Arizona company is an African-American, and the board seemed reluctant to affect one of its rare minority vendors.


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