Speaking about the county's effort to close Oak Forest Hospital on Thursday, Preckwinkle said, " One of the reasons I ran for this office is because I believe it's critical that the county provide health services to the uninsured and under-insured. I also think it is critical we make our criminal justice system more just. So I have a personal commitment and I know people behind me, and especially Dr. Mason who is the head of our healthcare system, believe that it is critical to have a well functioning county."
A group of ministers announced support for the plan to turn the hospital into an outpatient center, but many still oppose that idea.
Preckwinkle spoke about the issue with ABC7's Judy Hsu and Hosea Sanders on ABC7 News This Morning Friday.
Preckwinkle: "Before I ever became county board president, there was an extensive strategic plan in process in the health and hospital system and the conclusion was - and this was made public last May, almost exactly a year ago - that we ought to refocus our care on specialty care; that it's easier for people than it used to be to get primary care to see a pediatrician or internal medicine person, and it's hard for people who are underinsured, to see a cardiologist or orthopedic person or ear, nose and throat specialist, any kind of specialty you need, cancer specialist, oncologist, so the health system decided we would put our energy into providing that care. Also, we had two very underutilized hospitals - Provident...Oak Forest. Provident, 240 bed hospital, 40 to 60 patients on a daily basis. A quarter of the beds are used. At Oak Forest, 213 beds and on a daily basis about 40 people. You can't run a hospital efficiently, frankly, if you have such low patient count, so we don't have unlimited resources."
"We have to figure out how to best use the money we have. We have transformed our healthcare system to focus on outpatient delivery at Provident and Oak Forest in contrast to the previous use of both places as in patient facilities."
Hsu:"One of the bigger umbrella issues is trying to serve the areas uninsured and underinsured and that is a growing problem."
Preckwinkle:"In tough economic times, there are people who lose their insurance, but we're looking at a situation where we're moving toward 2014 where there is going to be healthcare reform, where more people will be covered by insurance hopefully paid for by the government or they have to buy themselves and then they have to figure out how to be competitive in that environment in that environment with the existing healthcare agencies an institutions out. So we've got an immediate challenge, and a long term change, how to transform the system and move it towards specialty care and the long-term challenge, how to be competitive in the new health reform era."
Sanders: "You're trying to find ways to save money. I know you have been working closely with the new mayor, trying to do new county and city services and see what is redundant.
Preckwinkle:"We're looking for opportunities for collaboration and cooperation. The county's budget is $3.1 billion. The city is about $6.2. Together we have $10 billion in purchasing power, a lot more than either of us by ourselves. How can we work together collaborate, do joint purchasing, how can we look at issues like healthcare, and for example, purchasing? How can we look at those in ways that will lead us to save money. Workforce development is another example of a way in which we might work together. There are lots of opportunities. Hopefully in the middle of June, the working group that we have put together will have their report prepared and Mayor Emanuel and I can look at it and figure out the direction in which we're going to head.
Sanders:"Has this been more challenging than you expected it to be? Has it been harder than you anticipated?"
Preckwinkle: "My standard response is that I thought it would be hard and it has been. This is particularly crunch time because we have a bill in Springfield that we're trying to push which will help us in this transformation initiative. It's crunch time in Springfield. It's crunch time here, but the job has been time consuming and hard all the way along.