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Cook County Health budget Rx: Total of 130 layoffs, moving clinic services to Provident Hospital

Debra Carey, the Cook County Health System’s interim CEO, said she and other officials “are all ears” for ideas, but the days of only cutting “what we can live without” are over.

Provident Hospital, located at 500 East 51st St. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Cook County Health officials outlined plans Friday to fill a $187 million budget gap for 2021 by shuttering two clinics and moving their operations to Provident Hospital and laying off about 130 employees throughout the health care system.

Under the proposed budget, services offered at the Woodlawn and Near South Health Centers will be moved from their current locations, at 6337 S. Woodlawn Ave. and 3525 S. Michigan Ave., to Provident at 500 E 51st St., beginning Dec. 1.

No jobs are being cut because of the merger of the two clinics’ services. But 46 workers have already been laid off in other areas, with roughly another 84 facing layoffs.

Debra Carey, the system’s interim CEO, said it wasn’t “an easy task” to put together the proposed budget.

“I will also tell you that more drastic actions or options may be the only course for future budgets,” Carey said, noting that some would “suggest that we look elsewhere for expense reductions.”

“We are making decisions that need to be made to ensure our long-term viability, and without new revenues new resources, we find ourselves in a zero-sum situation,” Carey said.

Carey said she and other officials in the health system “are all ears” for ideas, but the days of only cutting “what we can live without” are over.

The system also faces “new challenges,” such as financial pressures from the pandemic, as well as the usual structural issues, such as providing 50% of the county’s charity care.

Until a solution is found for the structural deficit the county faces, “every budget moving forward will be a challenge,” Carey said.

Though the system will have to trim its budget, officials also found money for new dialysis and life centers that will be located at the Provident Hospital campus. Andrea Gibson, the system’s interim chief business officer, said “an improvement and an increase” in outpatient services was the reason behind the decision.

In June, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said “everything is on the table” as county officials braced for a budget gap the COVID-19 crisis stretched to nearly $281 million for the rest of 2020 and as much as $409 million for next year.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle greets doctors at Cook County Health’s Professional Building in July.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle greets doctors at Cook County Health’s Professional Building in July.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

“This is the largest budget gap we’ve seen in almost a decade, so we’re going to be looking at holdbacks, we’re going to be looking at delaying purchases, renegotiating contracts with our vendors, a variety of strategies to meet the challenge that we face,” Preckwinkle said at the time.

On Friday, Carey issued a grim warning if the county can’t figure out its structural deficits.

“The fiscal year 2021 budget was by far the most difficult budget that I have participated in in my seven years at Cook County Health,” Carey said. “But I sit here this morning to tell you that until a solution is found to address the structural deficit County Health faces, every budget moving forward will be a challenge.”

The health system will host public hearings on the budget Sept. 1 and Sept. 9. Following approval of the system’s budget, which will likely be around Sept. 11 the proposed budget will be submitted to the Cook County Board of Commissioners as part of Preckwinkle’s 2021 budget recommendation.