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GILMAN — Ford-Iroquois Public Health Administrator Doug Corbett said Tuesday that he considers the health department’s decision to start providing some services in two counties across the Indiana border a “done deal,” despite Iroquois County Board members questioning its legality.
Corbett said concerns from Iroquois County Board members were raised after the health department board approved a proposal to pursue a contract with a home-health care provider that would serve residents of Newton and Benton, Ind. Currently, those two counties do not offer home-health care.
The health department board also recently approved entering into a contract with Health Chek/Health Coach Systems, based in Watseka, for the health department to provide employee wellness coaching in Indiana as well as throughout Central Illinois, Corbett said.
“They want to contract with us because they don’t currently offer employee wellness training,” Corbett said.
County board members’ main concern was that the health department, which receives about 20-22 percent of its budget from property taxes in Ford and Iroquois counties, should not be legally allowed to spend money generated in its bi-county jurisdiction on services provided outside of the two counties.
The health department board responded to the concerns during a special meeting held Oct. 24.
Corbett clarified at the meeting that the services would be provided in Indiana for a fee charged to those receiving the services, so the programs would pay for themselves with no impact on local tax revenue.
Corbett said any expenses incurred for providing the services — such as travel costs or benefits paid to an employee — would be paid for through the service fee.
“It was the sole intention of this board to look at these two options to generate revenue for the Ford-Iroquois County district (and avoid raising taxes),” Corbett said.
“We’re in a deficit budget. We need to provide services. We’ve been asked to provide services, and we’ve got the opportunity with these two programs to not only go out and make some money, but our hope is it will help us sustain our funding so we can actually use less tax money.”
Corbett said both state’s attorneys in Ford and Iroquois counties have no concerns over the plan’s legality. The state health department in Illinois also has given its approval, Corbett said.
Rod Copas, an Iroquois County Board member from Onarga, is against the plan, however. Copas noted that a resolution created when the health department board was formed in 1980 reads: “Iroquois County and Ford County jointly establish a multiple-county health department to be known as the Ford-Iroquois County Public Health Department to serve the public-health needs of the people of Ford and Iroquois counties.”
Copas said he feels that the resolution says that the health department is to serve only the two counties.
Meanwhile, Iroquois County State’s Attorney Jim Devine said that according to statutes that apply to the health department, the jurisdiction of the department does seem to be confining to the two-county area. But he also said there is a section about contracting with a for-profit company outside the area, which states the health department can contract with other states, municipalities and other political subdivisions.
Devine said he could not find an Illinois attorney general opinion to support the health department board’s actions, but he said he also put calls into the attorney general’s office for some answers, and at the time of the meeting he had not received an answer.
Corbett said, at this point, he feels the regulations are not being broken.
“The county codes say we can contract to provide services, with basically any entity, so it doesn’t say you cannot do it,” Corbett said.
Dr. Bernadette Ray, a health department board member, said at the Oct. 24 meeting that she feels entering into a contract to provide services outside the area would not short-change any of the local clients.
“This, in fact, could create new jobs,” she said, “as all positions needed would be hired from our area, not the area we’re looking at going into.”
Rick Bowen, the Ford County Board chairman, said he liked the idea that “we are taking the blinders off and thinking outside of the box.
“I haven’t yet quite figured out what the true issue is,” Bowen said.
Corbett said the health department has already signed a lease to rent an office in Kentland, Ind., for the home-health care services. The office will not be staffed; but having a physical location is required by Central Management Services and Medicare, Corbett said.
Corbett said the next step is for the health department to submit an application to the Indiana Department of Public Health for approval.
Paxton Record Editor Will Brumleve contributed to this report.