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Daley proposes slashing health department budget 17 percent

by Julia Dilday
Oct 15, 2008

Mayor Daley said Wednesday the city's budget crunch could result in a 17 percent cut in funding in 2009 for the Chicago Department of Public Health, which  health officials said could result in service reductions and longer waiting times.

“I don’t want to reduce services or make cuts in our programs,” Daley said at a city council session Wednesday. “But because the economy continues to worsen, the cost of government continues to increase, we are forced to make these difficult and tough choices.”

Under Daley’s budget proposal, the department will receive just $37.6 million in 2009. This is a $7.7 million decrease from the $45.3 million it received in 2008 from the city's Corporate Fund.

Daley reassured the council that the quality of medical care provided through the department’s programs and clinics will not be compromised by budget cuts.

“We have not laid off medical providers, which means we retain the skilled service levels we provide today,” Daley said. “We have adjusted our budget to ensure that medicine and supplies are ordered in the amount they are needed. We will leverage technology to improve services with fewer administrative positions.”

The Chicago Board of Health, which advises the Chicago Department of Public Health and Daley, met while Daley made his announcement and was not aware of the specific figures.

Dr. Terry Mason, the commissioner of the Department of Public Health, forecasted a loss in revenue and Chicago Development Block Grants.

He said that the financial hurdles the department currently faces would not disappear after 2009. “We’re going to see a further tightening,” Mason said. “We better get prepared for that.”

Dr. James R. Webster, Jr., president of the Board of Health, said the department would be forced to make the best use of the budgetary resources available. “Doing more with less is what [we] really need,” Webster said.

Tim Hadac, Department of Public Health spokesman, declined to comment on steps his department would seek until it has time to closely review the proposal.

But board member Dr. Carolyn C. Lopez said the city may need to resort to quick solutions while looking into more radical long-term solutions for health care in Chicago.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Lopez said. “It may be that a short-term strategy is consolidating services. So somebody may have to travel further to seek care from a city clinic. We’ll do what we can. I just don’t know what we’re going to end up with.”

Lopez and fellow board members advocated for a system that prioritizes public health, prevention and primary care, as opposed to the typical model which focuses more on treating people once they’re sick. “You can tell how we value things as a society by how much we pay for it,” Lopez said. “The reality is we really don’t pay much for preventive care.”

Lopez said city officials need to revitalize the health care system by, “Stepping back and saying, ‘What is in the best interest of the public health of the people?’ We have to build that kind of a system.”

Webster said streamlining of administrative processes through technology, as Daley advocated, will be beneficial and allow more time and resources to be spent on patient care. “Long-term, that’s going to increase productivity dramatically.”

He also called for increased compensation from the federal government.

“Government money has been harder and harder to come by,” Webster said. “Those are the sort of resources that nobody else can really provide. The federal government has to do that.”

Webster, said that if Chicago can overcome current challenges, it has the potential to “become a national model of how to organize public health. Not just talking about delivering health in clinic, but really changing the vision of public health.”