While the office of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle along with officials from the Cook County Health and Hospital System negotiate the final terms of the 2012 budget for CCHHS, the current budget passed by the CCHHS board is likely to have many employees of the system along with many Cook County tax payers scratching their heads and wondering about the fiscal priorities of the system. Welles Park Bulldog has confirmed with CCHHS spokesperson Marisa Kollias that the budget passed by the board last month includes $47.073 million for professional services, most of which are for consulting services. At the same time, the budget only allocates enough money to hire on 20% of current vacancies among nurses.
The reaction to this news has come swiftly. Henry Bayer, Executive Director for the local American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Union, reacted harshly. Bayer said the proliferation of consulting contracts by the system has been a concern since the previous administration of Todd Stroger. Bayer said he was concerned with corruption, waste, and a lack of effectiveness in these contracts. Bayer also said that he hoped that both the CCHHS board along with the Cook County Board would be meticulous in examing each and every consulting contract to make sure any contract the system agrees to is one that benefits the employees and the patients of the system.
The Service Employees International Union which represents about 2500 employees in the system declined numerous calls and emails for comment for this story.
Jessey Neves, spokesperson for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, said the president’s office was aware of both the consulting contracts and current plans to only hire 20% of nursing vacancies and this dynamic would play a role in their negotiations. Neves said in an email, “The President’s Office is going line-by-line with CCHHS through their budget.”
The CCHHS board, which is independent of the Cook County Board, passed a budget with a deficit for 2012 with a projected deficit of $291 million. While the CCHHS board is independent any deficit requires a subsidy from Cook County. President Preckwinkle has publicly stated that the subsidy she favors is $35 million less than the current $291 million subsidy that CCHHS is asking for.
Prior to passage of the CCHHS budget, several system nurses expressed dismay that the system relied so heavily on consultants. One nurse, Dorothy Ahmad, said, “We need more nurses so that we can deliver quality care at the bedside,” continuing, ”We have consultants on consultants; we have consultants monitoring consultants.”
A nursing official said privately at a recent town hall meeting on the budget that in their estimation the proliferation of consultants in the system has caused the system to be entirely dependent on these consultants making it nearly impossible to wind down milllions of dollars in contracts.