Chicago's oldest and largest public hospital will be replaced following last week's approval by the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board.
The board's move was the final hurdle to be cleared for the $570 million project, which will involve demolishing the 82-year-old 932-bed complex in favor of a more efficient 464-bed hospital. The board bucked its own staff reports that called the project's debt financing and project costs excessive.
The board's staff said Cook County Hospital's debt ratios are 10 times that of other hospitals that received approval from the planning board. The staff report said Cook County's debt per adjusted bed will be $1,024,100, compared with the median of $96,685 for other board-approved hospitals.
But a consultant's report said a smaller hospital would save taxpayers $440 million in the first five years compared with operating the existing facility. County Board President Richard Phelan also said a voucher system, in which patients would seek care at private facilities, would cost taxpayers $610 million a year, or "three times" the current hospital subsidy.
Ruth Rothstein, the hospital's director and chief of the Cook County Bureau of Health Services, said private hospitals couldn't handle Cook County's outpatient load of 650,000 visits a year. Construction of the new hospital could be completed in six years.
In a related matter, the need for a new public hospital was bolstered last week when Illinois' proposed managed-care Medicaid plan ran into opposition from federal regulators. The rejection of the plan, originally proposed to be ready by April, leaves in doubt several Chicago-area hospitals' plans to form "Medicaid HMOs" to care for 1 million poor Illinois residents.
The Illinois Department of Public Aid insisted the state is "not revising the program, only the time line," and expects the MediPlan Plus to win federal approval and start sometime next year.