Low morale a problem at Stroger Hospital

Monday, July 23, 2007

A new survey found that many physicians plan to leave Stroger Hospital amid Cook County budget cuts. The poll was taken last week at a retreat for doctors with Stroger Hospital's internal medicine department.

The results were spelled out in a memo that was leaked to a local radio station.

Given the current budget problems, the memo states that 75% of internists may leave the hospital. County doctors have always had the reputation of being some of the best in the state.

For many Stroger Hospital doctors, working at the public institution is more than a job, it's a calling. Dr. Courtney Hollowell said he has entertained many lucrative offers from other hospitals, but this is where he plans to stay.

"Being a doctor who was born and raised in predominantly the inner city, I have always felt that this is a population that I have an obligation to take care of," said Hollowell, who is a surgeon at Stroger Hospital.

Many feel the same obligation but find the current financial situation unbearable, according to a leaked internal memo written by the chairman of Stroger Hospital's Internal Medicine Department. Morale has never been lower among internists and the department is on the verge of collapse.

Budget cuts forced 13 full time doctors to be laid off and the memo said many more are about to quit or retire. Dr. Avery Hart wrote, "Without our division, the department will collapse. Without our department the hospital will collapse."

This does not come as a surprise to some Cook County commissioners.

"A lot of good people, professionals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, are leaving because they feel a lack of respect. They are demoralized," said Cook County Commissioner Anthony Peraica.

Fellow Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool said state lawmakers are not about to give money until the Stroger administration cuts patronage jobs.

"I think clearly the system is in danger of meltdown," said Claypool. "That a health care safety net that has been built up over two decades to serve the most vulnerable people in our population is in danger of being destroyed."

Officials with the Cook County Bureau of Health do not believe the internal medicine department is on the verge of collapsing but admitted that morale is bad and will only get worse if the state does not come up with $100 million to shore up a budget shortfall

"When you have significant cuts in funding that result in closing of clinics and having to lay off medical professionals, that is a very difficult environment to work in," said Thomas Glaser of the Cook County Bureau of Health Services.

Meanwhile, doctors with Stroger Hospital's internal medicine department are meeting this week to come up with a plan to keep doctors from quitting.

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