A $4 million increase in funding to clear a backlog of patient Social Security income applications at Stroger Hospital was approved last Tuesday over the anger of several Cook County’s Board commissioners.

The additional money will be paid over two years to a private contractor helping with the overflow of Stroger Hospital’s backlog of more than 2,000 applications – 570 of which were filed more than 90 days ago – for indigent patients.

The hospital will be paid for providing the patient services only after processing the applications. The applications have a combined worth of $30 million and will greatly help to offset the Bureau of Health Services’ 2007 budget shortage, says Thomas Glaser, chief operating officer for the bureau.

Board members voted 11-6 in favor of the funding increase.

However, many balked at approving the new funding without seeing specific numbers on how successful the private contractor, Chamberlin Edmonds, has been in processing applications up until now.

“You’re asking us to expand and to amend this contract by $4 million, and you’re not able to give us any information on this company generating revenues for the county,” said Commissioner Roberto Maldonado (D-Chicago). “This is like a leap of faith for this company.”

Maldonado and others called for the funding increase to be referred to the next finance committee meeting before board action.

But health services officials countered that although they would provide an analysis of the numbers at the next committee meeting, bringing in extra help to handle the flood of applications could not wait.

“Every week, every month that goes by, we’re further behind on collecting,” said Robert Simon, director of the health services bureau.

He added that the contract is a contingency contract, meaning that the bureau will only pay the full $4 million when the contractor produces $42 million in revenue from the applications over the next two years.

The bureau is facing a $60 million budget shortfall for 2007, Glaser said earlier in the day during the finance committee meeting.

The deficit sparked heated discussion. Commissioner Anthony Peraica (R-Westchester) pointed to several portions of the budget that had already gone 50 percent over their intended spending for all of 2007 by July 1.

While Glaser said that under-spending in some areas would help offset unanticipated costs, the bureau was still facing $30-$35 million in over-expenditures for the year.

Simon said the only way to reduce the budget further would be to cut essential services.

Commissioner Jerry Butler (D-Chicago) brought up the budget shortage again shortly before voting for the funding increase.

“This is one of those situations where we are always beating up on the bureau about getting the money collected, and then we make it difficult for them to do what they think is the best plan to collect the money,” he said.

Doug Kucia, chief of staff for Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago) – who voted to refer the matter to committee – said after the meeting that he worried the approval might be based on spurious logic.

“Now it’s up to the board to see if the vendor is going to deliver,” Kucia said.

“All the commissioners want the Bureau of Health to see if they can get things functioning right,” he added. “I think we’re all working towards the same goal, we just have different opinions on how to get there.”