Aldermen urged the city manager Monday night to negotiate with Evanston’s two hospitals to take over as many of the city’s health department services as possible.

At a budget policy committee meeting the aldermen saw the Health and Human Services Department’s $4.3 million budget — about 5.5 percent of the city’s general fund spending — as a key target for cuts.

Evanston has had a health department since 1874, making it the second oldest in the state. But it’s one of only four municipalities in suburban Cook County that still maintain their own health departments. The others are Oak Park, Skokie and Stickney Township.

The rest of suburban Cook County is served by the Cook County Department of Public Health.

The city faces rising budget costs for utilities, pensions and employee health benefits and anticipates some revenue declines as the housing market cools.

Hospitals statewide are under increasing pressure to demonstrate that they’re doing enough charity work to justify their tax exemptions.

“The time to get serious is now,” Mayor Lorraine Morton said, “The hospitals are under fire over the free care issue.”

“The health department does a wonderful job,” Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said, “but many of these are services the hospitals can provide. We’ve gone into the health care business, and should now ask them to help out by meeting their charitable service requirements.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the new chief executive officer at St. Francis Hospital “is very communicative. We should have no problem talking to them.”

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste said discussions with the hospitals go back to at least 2001 and that it’s time to achieve some results.

But he said he hoped that any arrangement with the hospitals would provide work for current health department employees who might otherwise lose their jobs.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she hope some monitoring can be provided to make sure there’s no reduction in current service levels if the hospitals take over portions of the health department’s role.

Health Director Jay Terry said the city has recently had some preliminary discussions with Evanston Hospital, and City Manager Julia Carroll said she hopes to meet with officials at St. Francis Hospital before the end of the month.

“I hope we can work out some agreements in time to plug them into the budget planning process,” Ms. Carroll said.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. city health department
    I have often wondered why the city has needed to support and staff a city health clinic while providing tax subsidies to its’ two hospitals that exist within its borders. It is indeed time for both of these institutions to step up and honor their committment to their host community. Both are profitable hospitals and, in the case of Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, they have provided sizable grants to open and support a Lake County Health Department Clinic to handle the uninsured and underinsured in the surounding environs of Highland Park Hospital. Shouldn,t the residents of Evanston expect the same treatment?
    Both hospitals already have existing clinics where residents in training see patients under the supervision of attending physicians which could be easily accessed by maintaining an existing social wrk staff within the city health department that could provide residents with referrals to these clinics and perform initial screening to make sure they qualify for subsidized or discounted care.
    I share Mellissa Wynnes concerns that some check be maintained to assure that the exisiting health care institutions be monitored to assure they do provide these important saftey net functions, since their records of community support have not been particularly stellar. Enh has been seemingly more concerned with expanding its medical reach into wealthier and more well insured areas of Lake County and developing into a center for research than infirst fulfilling the primay purpose for which mst of us assume hospitals exist; that being caring for and providing medical care to its community regardless of ability to pay. It is clearly time for Resurrection Healthcare and Evanston Northwestern Healthcare to step to the plate and not take their host community for granted.

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