Reimagining Cook County government to achieve true equity

Opinion piece published in The Daily Line on July 20, 2020.

Today is a national day of strikes, walkouts, and worker actions to demand race and economic justice. The workers of SEIU Local 73 are standing in solidarity with workers across the country who are uplifting Black Lives Matter.

Most Black Americans live with a legacy of 400 years of slavery, 100 years of Jim Crow, decades of racial housing and education segregation and more. The unfair criminal justice system did not begin with the police murder of Laquan McDonald and it will not end with the police murder of George Floyd. Their murders and the murders of hundreds of other black men at the hands of police are a byproduct of a criminal justice system that is inherently unfair to black and brown Americans.

Likewise, the Covid-19 pandemic did not cause the racial disparities in the American’s healthcare system. The Covid pandemic showed the rest of America what black and brown Americans know instinctively – our communities have fewer doctors, dentists, nurses, primary care clinics, preventative medical services, pharmacies, hospitals, hospital beds, and mental and behavioral health services than white communities.

Being a Black or brown person in the United States has never been easy. The calls for reform today stress equitable solutions to healthcare disparities and a broken criminal justice system with a racist history.

A public sector solution

Equitable solutions require investment in community services.  Community services for healthcare, housing, drug and substance abuse treatment, mental and behavioral health, community job programs, and more all require people to do the jobs. These services are not easily replicated by computer programs.  They require human beings teaching, counseling, listening, motivating, treating, nursing, and working with consistently disadvantaged communities over generations to create real change.

These services will not be provided by the private sector unless the government (public sector) creates profit motives for private companies to invest in the services. If the government is going to invest in the services needed to overcome almost 500 years of oppression; then the government should do the work itself.

First, providing services costs less than building a service model with a profit motive. Second, government provided services are more accountable than attempting to get the government to hold a private sector contractor accountable. Last, public sector workers are required to live in our communities unlike private contractors. Public sector workers should perform the public sector services that our tax dollars fund.

Rethink the Cook County service delivery model

Cook County elected officials and government employees come to work every day trying to do good for the residents of Cook County. They do not have easy jobs.

We must reimagine Cook County government.

Cook County government is currently built around large institutions – large hospitals, the biggest county jail in America, and large service offices. The service model is one that decreases costs by increasing office space utilization and support staff functions.

Let’s rethink this current model and move physicians, nurses, medical technicians and senior services into every community in Chicago and the Cook County suburbs. Let’s reduce the jail population with further bond reform, centralized detention alternatives, and create the mental and behavioral health, drug and alcohol abuse, job training, and other services needed to give people a path out of poverty.

In the next few weeks, SEIU Local 73 and our partners will release a budget plan to break down the current inequitable system and build a new system that serves all Cook County communities equitably.

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