Metro-East News

Belleville spends nearly $165K to fight St. E’s move

Artist’s rendering of St. Elizabeth’s O’Fallon facility
Artist’s rendering of St. Elizabeth’s O’Fallon facility

The City of Belleville has spent nearly $165,000 — so far — to fight St. Elizabeth’s Hospital’s move to O’Fallon.

Most of the money — $135,789 — went to Philadelphia consulting firm Duane Morris LLP between July of last year and April. The city also paid Charles H. Foley and Associates Inc. of Springfield just under $29,000 for consulting services in November and December.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert defended the use of city money to fight St. Elizabeth’s relocation. He said the hospital generates “several hundred million dollars a year of economic engine” for the Belleville area.

“To not fight for this would have been absolutely unbelievable; to not fight to hang on to something you had for 140 years in your community that’s provided jobs,” he said. “We know there is going to be an economic loss when that hospital is not on that site. We fought for what we believe was the right thing to do to try to sustain that long-term relationship.”

Eckert said numerous businesses benefit financially by the hospital’s location in downtown Belleville, including nearby restaurants, florists and gas stations.

“There are all kinds of residual affects that touch people’s lives when you have a business like that and you have a service like that, a ministry in your community for that many years,” he said. “We fought for it, because it was the right thing to do.”

The bill from Charles H. Foley and Associates stated the company performed 91.5 hours of consulting work at $250 an hour, for a total cost of $22,875 plus an additional eight hours of consulting services at $150 an hour for $1,200 total. A lump sum of $4,684 was also on the invoice — $4,600 for consulting services and $84.75 for dinner.

Eckert said associates with Charles H. Foley are “consultants that we used getting various statistics we needed for the hearings — various facts, figures and research.”

The bills from Duane Morris LLP were less detailed. The city was billed $4,999.50 for professional services in July; $9,959.82 in August; $13,549.33 in September; $10,491.16 in October; $25,196.81 in November; $14,145.70 in December; $32,728.70 in February; and $24,718.84 in April.

The nearly-monthly bills did outline some reimbursement the city gave Duane Morris LLP for air travel, overnight mail, car rentals and meals.

In April 2014, the Belleville City Council hired Mark Silberman, a partner with Duane Morris LLP, to work on a consulting basis for Belleville on efforts to keep St. Elizabeth’s in town. Silberman is a Chicago-based attorney with a specialization in health law.

Prior to joining Duane Morris, Silberman served as acting general counsel for the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board and the deputy chief counsel for litigation and enforcement at the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Silberman explained his role as follows: “I took on the role of assisting the city and the greater community in preparing a comprehensive opposition to the proposed project with keeping the focus on the board’s rules and regulations, so that it was focused on things that were of importance by design to the board.”

When asked if it was worth the $135,000 cost to the city, Silberman responded, “we have very much appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to work with the city, and the citizens of Belleville who came out and voiced their concerns for access to healthcare in their community did an exceptional job, and we were proud to be a part of that and to assist with that.”

Silberman said he attended both hearings of the Health Facilities Planning Board in January and April, when the St. Elizabeth’s project was discussed.

Last month, the board approved the project by an 8-0 vote. The board’s approval will allow St. Elizabeth’s to close its 60-year-old, 303-bed hospital in downtown Belleville and open a replacement 144-bed hospital 7 miles away off Interstate 64 on North Green Mount Road. The cost of the project is $253 million.

Eckert said the city may yet receive “one or two small outstanding bills” from the consultants hired.

However, the city didn’t pay any travel expenses for any city employees who attended meetings of the state health board in Bolingbrook, which is near Chicago.

“Everybody who went paid their own way,” Eckert said.

The nearly $165,000 spent in opposition of the hospital’s relocation came out of the city’s general fund, according to the mayor.

“I think the unfortunate negative impact that will be had on our local economy with them (the hospital) possibly moving will come out of our general fund as well,” Eckert said in reference to a decrease in local sales tax. “We know its going to have an impact. It’s just impossible to calculate how much that total impact will be.”

Maryann Reese, CEO of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, said she didn’t want to comment on the amount of money the city spent.

“I don’t think it’s my place to make a judgment on that,” she said. “I would say that we continue to focus on our replacement facility and ambulatory care center.”

The city of Belleville strongly opposed St. Elizabeth’s plan, and continues to fight it.

Belleville City Council members decided unanimously at their meeting Monday to authorize Eckert to have city attorney Garrett Hoerner seek an administrative review of the board’s decision in circuit court.

“They gave us an endorsement to continue to investigate the possibility of moving forward with an administrative review,” Eckert said. “Mr. Hoerner is still investigating a lot of different aspects of the case.”

He said the appeal will be filed soon unless Hoerner finds information in his investigation suggesting the city should not file the paperwork.

“We have been very united all along the way,” Eckert said of the City Council’s decision. “We believe it’s something that’s very important to the city; to not fight to sustain it would have been absolutely a big mistake on the part of our duty.”

Eckert doesn’t anticipate an administrative review costing the city much, because Hoerner earns an annual salary working on behalf of the city.

Reese declined comment on the appeal.

After the hospital got the go-ahead from the state board, Reese said she called Eckert, and they agreed to meet to have “some meaningful discussion” on next steps.

A date for such a meeting has not yet been set, according to Reese. “I’m hoping to hear from him,” she said, “to discuss what this repurposed campus might look like.”

St. Elizabeth’s plans to demolish the current hospital, if no buyer or new tenant can be found. Hospital leaders say an outpatient medical campus would remain in downtown Belleville, including an urgent-care center, doctor offices, labs and therapy services.

Eckert confirmed Reese did call him 45 minutes after the state health board’s vote. However, he said it was “hard to be engaged in conversation” after witnessing the board’s vote and the devastating impact it will have on the city of Belleville.

Eckert said he and Reese are “going to need to talk, depending on how the final things work out. There are a lot of questions, discussions and decisions that need to be had. I’m certainly willing to do that,” he said. “I have not heard from her since after the hearing.”

Preliminary work is underway at St. Elizabeth’s O’Fallon site. The first step is mine remediation, Reese said. She remains hopeful the new hospital will be open by the end of 2017.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at jforsythe1@bnd.com or 618-239-2562. Follow her on Twitter: @BND_JForsythe.

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