• Alex Nitkin
    APR 23, 2020

    County commissioners to weigh pandemic’s financial toll during virtual board meeting

    The Cook County Board of Commissioners is set to take stock of the devastation that the coronavirus crisis has wreaked on the county’s finances when it reconvenes for the first time in more than a month on Thursday.

    Board members are scheduled to accept a report (20-1114on the first-quarter operations of the Cook County Health and Hospital system when they gather for a virtual meeting via Microsoft Teams at 10 a.m. Thursday. Commissioners are scheduled to get back together at 1 p.m. Thursday for a meeting of the Cook County Forest Preserve District board.

    Among the first items of business awaiting commissioners Thursday morning will be a rule change (20-2363) allowing the board to conduct public meetings over cyberspace, in accordance with Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive order last month that loosened requirements of the state’s Open Meetings Act.

    In addition to the sharp drop-off in sales tax revenue driven by the near shutdown of the county’s economy, the coronavirus pandemic has put “considerable” strain on the Cook County Health and Hospital System, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said during a press conference on Wednesday.

    Stroger and Provident Hospitals have suffered a steep decline in revenue because the hospitals have stopped providing elective surgeries in order to divert resources to fighting the virus, Preckwinkle said.

    “There’s an impact both…in terms of lost revenue, because of the termination of elective surgery, and an impact in terms of the number of people that we have to care for…many of whom are uninsured,” Preckwinkle said. “So our health and hospital system, which is half our budget, is really heavily impacted by the virus.”

    Preckwinkle added that she is hopeful the hospital system will see some of its losses replenished by federal stimulus dollars.

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    Commissioners are scheduled Thursday to consider a resolution (20-2373) offered by Preckwinkle that would authorize county Budget Director Annette Guzman to accept and apply federal stimulus dollars to county finances.

    The future of the county’s health system had already been in flux before the coronavirus crisis emerged, as the system was in the swing of searching for a new CEO after the dismissal of Dr. Jay Shannon amid skyrocketing costs from treating patients without insurance.

    Ekerete Akpan, the health system’s chief financial officer, was asked to step aside in February. And earlier this month, Preckwinkle and interim Cook County Health CEO Debra Carey fired Dr. Terry Mason from his role overseeing the county’s department of public health. He was replaced in that role by Dr. Rachel Rubin and Dr. Kiran Joshi.

    The turbulence prompted the county board earlier this year to approve a sweeping measure (20-1118) to wrest some control of the health system away from its independent board of directors, in part by letting Preckwinkle personally choose a 12th member of the board.

    Related: County Board advances measure to crank up oversight of hospital system: ‘This is not a power grab’

    The County Board is scheduled to follow through on that measure Thursday by appointing (20-2075) former health care executive Otis Story as Preckwinkle’s pick to join the board.

    The board is also set to consider a resolution (20-2378) from Comm. Scott Britton (D-14) that would recommend for the Cook County Department of Public Health to provide address information to municipal first responders so they can take “necessary medical precautions” when entering the home of someone who is sick.

    Britton told WBEZ on Tuesday that he did not know whether the resolution had enough votes to pass because some commissioners had raised concerns about privacy.

    Thursday will mark the board’s first meeting since Comm. Frank Aguilar (D-16) was appointed by west-suburban Democratic Party leaders to replace former Comm. Jeffrey Tobolski, who resigned last month. Aguilar was sworn into the position on Monday.

    The following items are also scheduled to be considered on Thursday:

    20-1578 — An amendment to add more than $1 million in increased funding to county’s contract with the William Everett Group, the consulting firm hired last year to oversee outreach efforts for the U.S. Census. Some commissioners, including Comm. Alma Anaya (D-7), said earlier this year that they did not want to approve the extra funding until the consultant answered questions about how they dispersed funding for outreach grants. 

    20-2389 — A resolution calling on representatives of the county’s Department of Corrections and Juvenile Temporary Detention Center to “discuss the status of protective measures in the Cook County criminal justice system during COVID-19” before the board. 

    20-2280 and 20-1911 — Respectively, a $610,000 contract renewal for fuel from Black Dog Petroleum and a new $2,227,312.50, five-year contract with Black Dog Foods for dry and canned goods at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Six commissioners voted “present” on whether to approve a contract with Black Dog Foods in December, months after Black Dog Petroleum was named in a federal subpoena

    20-2020 — A $700,000 settlement paid Tara Lewis for a medical malpractice claim against Stroger Hospital. 

    20-2098 — A $300,000 settlement paid to Carolyn Goedert for an “allegation of negligence” against Stroger Hospital. 

    20-0622 — A class 8 property tax incentive for Eagle Gun Club so it can open a car dealership in a vacant building at 5904 W. 159th St. in Oak Forest. 

    20-1618 — A class 6b property tax incentive for Venture One Real Estate to open a distribution warehouse at 76 Bradrock Dr. in Des Plaines. 

    20-1679 — A class 6b property tax incentive for Helmut Mueller to open a “tooling and mole making” industrial facility at 1420 South Wright Blvd. in Schaumburg.

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