A state lawmaker is demanding legislative hearings after being kept in the dark about the status of a vacant hospital in his district the state acquired at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic but later gave back to the owner in mid-June.
The Illinois Department of Public Health this week revealed the vacant Vibra Hospital in Springfield the state leased was turned back over to the owner.
“The Vibra Hospital property was surrendered back to the owner in mid-June,” an emailed statement said. “The just-compensation process for the period when the State had possession of the property is still ongoing, and the amount of any such compensation will be determined by the courts.”
State and local officials in Springfield hadn’t been told that information by the Pritzker administration.
“It is [news to me],” Sangamon County Public Health Director Gail O’Neill told WMAY radio on Wednesday.
State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said he also hasn’t been told anything.
“To not inform the local officials, to not inform the legislators, to not inform the local health department that a facility that just a few months ago we were being told was going to be used as an overflow facility for potentially COVID-cases now isn’t any longer on the books but the local health people didn’t even know about it,” Butler said.
There are too many unknowns that Butler said should be discovered by holding legislative hearings.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “There’s no accountability of this stuff. We don’t know how much is being spent.”
CBS Chicago reported the alternative medical facility built inside McCormick Place will be completely dismantled later this month.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday the alternative sites were “being kept warm” in case they are needed.
“I can’t guarantee you that we’ll never need them and certainly as this pandemic rages on and we see the numbers rising all across the nation as well as the state of Illinois, I worry that we’ll need to,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker’s initial COVID-19 orders were put in place to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to keep hospital capacity available.
Statewide, 42 percent of the total number of hospital beds are available. There have also been reports of continued furloughs and now layoffs of staff at hospital systems in Illinois.
Pritzker said the goal of the regulations was to keep hospitals open, but continued mitigation measures are needed to keep people healthy.
Butler said legislators are in the dark and that needs to change.
“This is why the legislature really needs to step up,” Butler said. “We should be having multiple hearings. We should be having multiple committees having hearings. The federal government’s doing this. The Congress is doing this … there’s no reason why the Illinois State Legislature can’t do the same thing.”
Democrat leadership at the statehouse hasn’t committed to holding hearings or calling a special session for any issue. The legislature’s scheduled return to Springfield is after the November election.