Tax rollback means Provident Hospital ‘likely’ to close

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Thousands of poor and uninsured patients Provident Hospital of Cook County cares for each year may soon have to travel further to receive free, quality health care now that the Cook County sales tax will be reduced, officials said Tuesday.

Thousands of poor and uninsured patients Provident Hospital of Cook County cares for each year may soon have to travel further to receive free, quality health care now that the Cook County sales tax will be reduced, officials said Tuesday.

After four previously unsuccessful tries, the Cook County board voted 12-5 on Tuesday to override a veto previously issued by County Board President Todd Stroger to rollback the county’s portion of sales tax. As of July 1, the tax will drop to 1.25 percent from 1.75 percent.

“It’s highly likely we may have to close Provident Hospital,” said William Foley, chief executive officer for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System. “Essentially, we will not be able to treat as many people as we currently do.”

Each time commissioners attempted to roll back a portion or all of the sales tax increase, Stroger’s reason for vetoing was to protect hospital and clinic services. Critics of the board president, who is up for re-election in February, had said Stroger was overstating the facts and that health services would not collapse.

Foley had remained neutral on whether hospital and clinic closures are necessary, but that all changed this week.

“At this point everything is on the table including closures of hospitals and clinics,” Foley said.

There are 17 commissioners and five are Black: Earlean Collins, D-1st Dist., Jerry Butler, D-3rd Dist., Robert Steele, D-2nd Dist., William Beavers, D-4th Dist., and Deborah Sims, D-5th Dist. Butler, Beavers and Sims voted against the override, along with white commissioners Joseph Moreno, D-7th Dist., and Joan Murphy, D-6th Dist., while Collins and Steele voted for it.

Previously 14 votes were needed to override a veto but this year the Illinois General Assembly changed the state law to reduce the threshold to 11 votes. Stroger said he may challenge the new state law in court.

Stroger said Provident would not be the only casualty.

“I do not see any other way we can close a $200 million hole other than to close Provident Hospital, (south suburban) Oak Forest Hospital and the clinics,” he said. “Closing Provident would save the county $75 million a year. Closing Oak Forest Hospital would save $65 million and if we close the clinics too that would save another $40 million. But that still is not $200 million, so more cuts would need to be made.”

According to Stroger, 90 percent of the penny sales tax increase, which took effect July 2008, goes to help fund health care. Now that the tax will be reduced Stroger said the county would need to cut about $30 million from its budget in 2010 and $200 million each year thereafter if new revenue is not found to replace the half penny sales tax it will lose next year.

He added that he was surprised to see that Collins and Steele voted in favor of the veto override considering they represent some of the poorest districts in the city.

“Collins’ district includes the Austin community (on the West Side) and Steele’s district includes the Englewood community (on the South Side),” he said. “They both have clinics in their districts yet they voted for the rollback, which now jeopardizes those clinics closing.”

In pushing for the tax cut, commissioners did not specify how the budget shortfall would be filled.

Last month the CCHHS announced a round of layoffs at Provident and Oak Forest Hospitals. Those cuts include 34 positions at Provident, 200 at Oak Forest and 107 at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital on the West Side effective Jan. 12.

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