Cook County Board President Todd Stroger defended his veto of a sales tax rollback this morning, recruiting an animated group of supporters who called the debate at County Hall nothing but "politricks," and painted county commissioners as uninformed "bobbleheads."
When county commissioners voted to repeal the 1 percent sales tax hike last week, Stroger said it could mean that Oak Forest and Provident hospitals, as well as 16 county health clinics, would be closed.
Stroger appeared at Provident. He said the hospitals and their employees were a vital cog in the county, especially given an economy that has cut jobs and benefits, and increased the patient load at health care facilities.
"More sick people have no ability to pay their health bills," he said, criticizing commissioners who "grandstand for political advantage at the expense of vital services for the growing number of county residents who desperately need these services.
Stroger said he continues to support a gradual rollback of the county sales tax. He said he has been assured commissioners don't have the votes to squash his veto. Fourteen of the 17 commissioners would need to vote against Stroger's veto.
Flanked by ministers and the head of a leadership development group, Stroger received strong support behind the podium.
Mark Allen, president of the Black Leadership Development Institute, said county commissioners were misinformed when saying Stroger was not attentive to the needs of county residents.
"You did the right thing at the right time for the right reasons," Allen said, as supporters in the room clapped.
"It's a shame (commissioners) sit in meetings and act like bobbleheads," said Pastor Steven Jones, president of the Baptist Pastors Conference. He said politics played too large a role in the debate, which could have had far-reaching consequences if the hospitals were closed.
He said health needs to be looked at "as a people issue, not a political issue. It's our right, it's our moral right" to have hospitals throughout the county.
Rev. Leon Miller, president of the New Baptist Ministers Conference of Chicago and Vicinity, said the county's health care system was increasingly important as some private hospitals continue to defer Medicaid patients to county hospitals.
"They expect our people to die? They're human like anyone else," he said.
Reporters asked Stroger and new Cook County Health and Hospitals System CEO William Foley about allegations of some 500 patronage workers at Provident.
Stroger was indignant: "All right, I'll say 1000. What does that mean? Have they given you a list of 500 people who patronage workers who are not doing their work?"
Foley, who began his tenure last week, said the health system is putting together a strategic plan, which will look at inefficiencies, including patronage.
"My job is to make sure the health system is well managed, and managed efficiently," he said.
Health system COO David Small said the system has seen a $30 million boost in Medicaid revenue, thanks to the submission of timely and accurate claims.
"The days of having rooms filled with unprocessed claims forms are over," he said. "We are current in everything we're doing."
Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.