Removal of three board of health members to be considered Monday

WATSEKA — A shakeup on the Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department board is in the works as a result of disagreement over the agency’s decision to expand home-health services into Indiana.

Iroquois County Board Chairman Rod Copas, a staunch opponent of the health department’s plan, has called a special meeting for 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28, for the county board to remove and replace three of Iroquois County’s appointed members on the board of health.

“It’s because we don’t feel that the board (of health) is moving in the proper direction,” Copas said Friday.

Copas is Iroquois County’s fourth appointee on the eight-member board of health, which also comprises four Ford County representatives. Copas said he will not be among those considered for removal.

“I appointed myself to the board of health a month and a half ago, so I will continue to serve until we get this straightened out,” Copas said, referring to the Indiana home-health issue. “We need to take a long look at how things have been done, and why. So we’re going to replace the three (Iroquois County appointees) that are ours, and, hopefully, we can move forward (with addressing the issue).”

The board of health consists of four appointed members from each county, including one each from the Ford and Iroquois county boards. All are appointed to three-year terms, except the county board appointees, who serve indefinite terms, according to health department spokesman Julie Clark.

Besides Copas, of rural Onarga, Iroquois County’s representatives on the board of health are: Diane Clatterbuck, a registered nurse from Donovan; Jill Kaeb, a registered nurse from Cissna Park; and Dr. Michalow Alexander, a Bradley resident who has an orthopedic practice at Iroquois Memorial Hospital in Watseka.

Clark said the board of health members who are being considered for removal all have terms expiring in 2013. Clatterbuck originally was appointed in 1992, while Kaeb has been on the board since 2004 and Alexander since 2010.

Copas declined to identify the replacements he is considering. The 20-member Iroquois County Board has authority to approve or reject any appointment Copas makes.

Ford County’s board of health appointees are not being changed. They are: the board’s president-elect, Dr. Kevin Brucker of Gibson City; Dr. Bernadette Ray of Gibson City; the Rev. Teddie Jensen of Piper City; and Elynor Stagen of Gibson City, who is the Ford County Board’s representative.

Monday’s meeting will be held in the county board meeting room at the Clifford Bury Administrative Center, 1001 E. Grant St., Watseka. It is open to the public.

The health department is asking supporters of the health department to wear all black to the meeting to “symbolize mourning of the possible dissolution of the Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department,” Clark said.

Tempers flared during a special board of health meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the health department’s decision to expand home-health services into Benton and Newton counties in Indiana. The board of health called the meeting to decide whether to move forward with the controversial plan and to address rumors that attempts would be made by Copas to close the agency if the plan advances. No decisions were made.

Copas was noncommittal at the meeting about whether he would push for the dissolution of the health department, although he did say, “if we keep spending money in Indiana, it is going to be a problem.”

On Friday, he stressed, however: “We’re not trying to dissolve it at this point; we’re trying to fix it.”

Copas has already had initial discussions with officials at Iroquois Memorial Hospital in Watseka to explore the possibility of the hospital taking over the duties of the health department if the agency is eventually dissolved. Copas said it would be a “backup plan if something goes wrong.”

According to Copas, the majority of the Iroquois County Board disagrees with the health department’s plan. Copas said his main concern  is that the health department, which receives about 20 percent of its budget from property taxes in Ford and Iroquois counties, should not be legally allowed to spend money generated in its jurisdiction on services provided outside of the two counties.

According to information obtained from the health department through a Freedom of Information Act request this week, the agency has already spent $3,661 on the Indiana home-health program. The total consists of a one-time expense of $1,000 for a license to operate in Indiana; $2,400 in rental payments dating back to Aug. 8 for an office in Kentland, Ind.; $114 in monthly utility bills; and $147 in monthly bills to Nipsco, a natural gas and electricity supplier.

The agency has also hired a doctor from Kentland, Ind., and a consultant, for which expense figures were not immediately provided.

Public Health Administrator Doug Corbett contends that the home-health services would generate revenue and have no impact on local tax monies. He noted that services would be provided for a fee charged to those receiving the services, so the programs would pay for themselves.

Corbett said the health department decided to look into the expansion of home-health services into Indiana as a way to generate revenue and help address a projected $138,000 shortfall in this fiscal year’s budget.

But Copas said he is concerned about the legalities of spending the agency’s money in another state. Iroquois County State’s Attorney Jim Devine has told Copas that he now believes the move is illegal.

Devine has contacted the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to get its opinion but was still waiting to hear back as of Friday.


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