Health department to address rumors of impending dissolution

GILMAN — Iroquois County Board Chairman Rod Copas stopped short of saying he will push for the dissolution of the Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department if the agency moves forward with its controversial plan to start providing home-health services across the Indiana border.

But Copas is not denying the possibility either.

“Everything is on the table at this point,” the rural Gilman man said Monday. “We are not going into Indiana. I can tell you that. It is not going to happen.”

Rumors that the health department may be closed down have generated a barrage of questions from health department employees, their clients and taxpayers recently, according to a news release from the health department. To address those concerns, the board of health has called a special meeting for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22, at the Gilman-Danforth District Library, 715 N. Maple St., Gilman.

During the meeting, public comments will be taken, followed by a vote of the board of health on the “Indiana home health issue,” the release said.

According to Copas, the majority of the Iroquois County Board disagrees with the health department’s plan to contract with a home-health care provider that would serve residents of Newton and Benton counties in Indiana.

Iroquois County Board members’ main concern is 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.

Ford-Iroquois Public Health Administrator Doug Corbett, on the other hand, said last fall that he considers the department’s decision a “done deal” despite the county board’s concerns.

Attempts to reach Corbett Monday were unsuccessful. Health department spokesman Julie Clark said he would not be making any comments until Tuesday’s meeting.

Copas said Monday that if there is “a continued effort to go into Indiana” by the health department, the Iroquois County Board will try to contest it — and dissolving the health department could be one way to do that.

“The state allows for dissolution of a joint public health district, just as it allows for the formation of one,” Copas said.

“We’re just at a point where we can’t go into Indiana. We’re not going to. We’re not comfortable with it.”

Copas initially raised concerns about the plan during an Oct. 24 board of health meeting. In December, Copas was appointed chairman of the county board, and he later appointed himself as the county board’s representative on the board of health, as well, replacing Susan Wynn Bence.

Unlike Copas, Rick Bowen, chairman of the Ford County Board, has not spoken out against the idea of the health department expanding some services into the two Indiana counties. He said in October that he liked the idea that “we are taking the blinders off and thinking outside of the box.”

Copas, meanwhile, said a resolution created when the health department board was formed in 1980 clearly states that it was formed “to serve the public-health needs of the people of Ford and Iroquois counties.”

Although the resolution Copas cited appears to limit the scope of services to the two counties, Iroquois County State’s Attorney Jim Devine has said it appears regulations allow a health department to contract with other states, municipalities and other political subdivisions to provide services.

In addition to the home-health services, the health department board has 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.

Corbett noted that both 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. The fee could even generate revenue, making the health department less reliant on property taxes, Corbett has said.

Corbett said in October that the state health department in Illinois has given its approval. Corbett added that the health department had already signed a lease to rent an office in Kentland, Ind., for the home-health care services.

Copas said Monday the department has since hired a doctor from Kentland, Dr. Gonzalo Florido, and a consultant.

“They’ve spent a substantial amount of money in Indiana,” Copas said.

In a related matter, Copas said, he has learned that the health department has been operating for decades without the existence of a separate advisory committee comprising members of both county boards. The resolution forming the health department states that such a committee is supposed to meet quarterly to monitor the activities of the board of health and to make recommendations. But Copas said it appears it never has.

“We need to get that back and working,” Copas said. “We need to be a lot more diligent on paying attention to what’s going on over there.”

Among those expected to be in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting was state Rep. Josh Harms, R-Watseka.

Harms did not return a message requesting comment Monday. Dr. Bernadette Ray of Gibson City, president of the board of health, also could not be reached for comment.

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