By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle presented a State of the County address to members of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce at its Quarterly Breakfast Seminar, Wednesday, Dec. 11, at BankFinancial, 1354 E. 55th St.
Joined by Cook County Bureau of Economic Development Chief Herman Brewer, Preckwinkle emphasized the county’s central role in fostering public health, safety and regional competitiveness. While she shared her concerns about the county’s large jail population and continued economic vitality, she expressed confidence in the direction of the Cook County health system.
“On the public health side, we’re blessed,” Preckwinkle said, to have Dr. Ramathan Raju as CEO of the Cook County Hospitals and Health System. “He’s not only brought vision, as a public health professional, but is trying to dramatically improve the management over there and I’m very grateful.”
Preckwinkle added that the county’s Medicaid expansion program, established in 2012 as CountyCare, will receive reimbursement as a result of national health care reform.
“Our subsidy to the health care system is going down as a result of the Affordable Care Act, but we still spend half-a-billion dollars in our health care system [a year] on the uninsured and underinsured.”
Preckwinkle pointed at Chicago policing strategies and an inability of the courts to dispose of cases fast as responsible for the County’s bloated prison population. She said she was hopeful that a November meeting with Illinois Supreme Court justices may yield reform.
Preckwinkle said she was “optimistic that we may be moving in the direction that they are in Washington D.C., which is a system where there are very few cash bonds,” Preckwinkle said said. “The people in our jail are not the people who are accused of the most serious crimes, they’re the poorest, the people who can’t pay their bail.”
On the economic front, Preckwinkle presented a mixed picture. While she emphasized Cook County’s wealth of jobs in the tri-state area, she said that “we’re losing in the competitive battle between regions and we have to figure out collectively in our region what we can do to support each other and support regional development.”