Cook County Health could face more layoffs as CEO search continues

Chicago-based Cook County Health will likely have to implement additional cost-cutting initiatives in the coming months and years to address financial struggles stemming from before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

Debra Carey, Cook County Health's interim CEO, told the Cook County (Ill.) Board July 21 that the system identified a negative $162 million expense variance earlier this year in its fiscal year 2020 budget, and it has since implemented nearly $90 million in nonpersonnel cuts to reduce the pre-COVID-19 deficit to $75 million as well as reducing overtime and slowing hiring.

She said the actions reduced the deficit to $61 million as of June 26, and since then, Cook County Health cut 70 nonunion positions to save another $5 million and is trying to reduce $30 million in vendor contract costs.

The health system — which lost at least $85 million through June due to the cancellation of elective surgeries and procedures — is projecting a $187 million shortfall for fiscal year 2021, which begins Dec. 1, according to the Sun-Times.

And Andrea Gibson, the health system's interim chief business officer, said more positions could be cut to save even more money next year, according to the newspaper.

"The uncertainty around the pandemic will further challenge us. We have a team in place continuously monitoring the situation and preparing for a resurgence. Should that resurgence occur, we will have to shift resources again, likely impacting our revenue generating services and causing further budgetary and service pain," said Ms. Carey, who provided a copy of her mid-year budget speech to Becker's.

"These next several months and the coming years will be difficult for the entire healthcare industry and we are no exception," she added. "The fiscal year 2021 budget and likely several budgets after that will contain a host of difficult decisions to ensure that CCH is available for the patients who rely on us."

Cook County Health's financial struggles come as the health system's CEO search is underway following the November 2019 ouster of John Jay Shannon, MD.

According to the Sun-Times, M. Hill Hammock, chair of the County Health Board of Directors, said during the July 21 mid-year budget hearing that the county expects to name one or two potential finalists possibly in the next two or three weeks.

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