CHICAGO -- An Illinois agency yesterday approved construction of a new bond-financed $551 million Cook County Hospital to replace the county's crumbling public health care center.

The existing hospital comprises 13 decaying buildings, between which patients are transported even in winter for routine procedures like X-rays and blood tests. Cook County Board president Richard Phelan said that in the past three years, the county has spent more than $80 million to make capital renovations "simply to meet code and accreditation requirements."

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