Cook County approves nearly $9.3 billion budget

The Cook County Board of Commissioners last week approved a nearly $9.3 billion budget that includes millions in new spending to support healthcare for migrants.

The spending package would provide $100 million to improve the county’s ability to respond to emergencies, specifically those related to public health. Of the funds, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said $70 million will support the ongoing effort to provide healthcare services to asylum seekers and other new arrivals to the region.

“One of the primary and guiding missions of Cook County is providing public healthcare access and services to residents, regardless of a resident’s ability to pay or citizenship status,” she said. “The pandemic has shown the need and importance of this work, especially in times of an emergency.”

Of the remaining funds, $20 million will address municipal or local government costs, while $10 million will be set aside for other disaster response and recovery events that may occur next fiscal year.

The budget includes $12 million for a program to purchase and retire medical debt for income-eligible patients of hospitals located within Cook County who are unable to cover their medical bills. Preckwinkle’s office announced last month the program has erased more than $280 million of residents’ medical debt over the past year.

The spending plan also provides $74 million to expand the county’s behavioral health footprint, which includes the creation of a Department of Mental Health Services.

The overall budget allocates about $4.4 billion for Cook County Health. A total of 308 vacant full-time equivalent positions are slated to be eliminated at the health system, with officials noting most roles have been unfilled for a year and are non-clinical.

Officials cut ribbon on new facility to provide medical service for DCSF youth in care

State and Chicago leaders cut the ribbon last week on a new Chicago facility that will provide nursing care and mental health support for youths in the state’s care with complex medical needs.

The Honeysuckle Home in the city’s North Lawndale neighborhood will be a joint venture with the Department of Children and Family Services. Agency director Marc Smith said it will ensure some of the most vulnerable youth receive care.

“We could not be more grateful for the model that Honeysuckle Home has created to help some of our most vulnerable youth receive the care and attention they need to transition into the community and ultimately into a home with a loving foster family,” he said. “To invest in organizations like Honeysuckle and in the west side of Chicago is a win-win.”

Officials said the Honeysuckle Home will be the only known site in Illinois to offer a specialized home-like environment for youth while also addressing their acute needs. The facility will emphasize education, training, mental health awareness and structured family support services.

“Many of my first-hand experiences as a nurse and navigating gaps in care have led to Honeysuckle Home’s beginning,” Daphne Bobo, co-founder of Honeysuckle Home, said in a statement. “It has been an incredible journey that has brought us to this point and it is an honor to serve these children.”

The site will begin to accept youth in care by mid-December.