Metro-East News

Mid America Medical District size, role in question

The future and composition of the seldom active and the little-known Mid America Medical District is up in the air.

Commissioners of the Mid America Medical District, which includes part of downtown East St. Louis, as well as all of Belleville and O’Fallon, are weighing whether to shrink the district, or even disband.

The district has the power to acquire, sell or lease property within the district to health-care providers, build facilities, and issue tax exempt bonds, which would be paid back from revenues from the operation of medical buildings being leased or owned.

Medical districts also exist in part of Chicago and part of Springfield.

The Mid-America district was formed in 2007 in order to help save Kenneth Hall Regional Hospital, formally known as St. Mary’s, from closing in East St. Louis. However, that effort ultimately was unsuccessful when the hospital closed in 2011.

The district later expanded to include all of Belleville and O’Fallon, a large geographic area that commissioners have struggled to wrap their arms around, especially with no dedicated funding source or staffing.

The medical district can’t levy property taxes, but can apply for grants, loans and appropriations from the state legislature.

Since the creation of the district, the commissioners have completed a $250,000 comprehensive plan, which doesn’t include Belleville and O’Fallon, completed design work for pedestrian enhancement project in East St. Louis along Collinsville Avenue, among other things.

However, the commission has been relatively dormant.

“There’s no funding, no staff,” said Commissioner Terry Beach, who is also the executive director of the St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department. “We have not done any one single project other than studies.”

During a commission planning session in November, board members brought up the possibility of disbanding the district.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert is able to appoint three members to the board, but those three seats are vacant.

Beach added, even though Belleville hasn’t appointed anyone to the commission, the city might have a different view now that St. Elizabeth’s is planning to move to a new hospital in O’Fallon.

Commissioner Pam Funk, who also is the assistant city administrator for O’Fallon, said her city would be interested in leaving the district.

Funk said St. Elizabeth’s did not ask for any financial assistance to locate in town.

“We don’t see a lot of benefit of being a part of it,” Funk said.

She added O’Fallon being a part of the district takes the focus off of East St. Louis where the help is needed.

“Why should we take away from East St. Louis when it’s something we don’t need?” Funk said.

With the idea broached of disbanding the district, East St. Louis leaders are now asking to partner with the district.

“We’re open for partnering,” said East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks. “We do have a new administration. We’re very interested in working along with this commission, and we just wanted you to know ... we’re discussing projects that we’re interested in regards to our medical district. This team is working very strategically to getting some things done.”

“We heard there was a possibility of you guys going in a different direction. We just wanted to come and see what we could do to encourage partnership,” Jackson-Hicks added.

Jackson-Hicks and Tye Taylor, who handles economic development for the city, said there are ongoing discussions of a medical facility development looking to open in the city, within the boundaries of the medical district.

“We are looking at it (the medical district) and looking at what is feasible for now, what is practical, what would deliver the most amount of impact and would be a good fit,” Taylor said.

Neither Taylor nor Jackson-Hicks would disclose the name of the possible development group, but said it involves a group of doctors and a construction company.

Taylor said with medical marijuana being legal in Illinois, doctors need to have physical offices in the state to write those prescriptions.

Taylor added East St. Louis would be a good place for a cancer treatment center.

“Because of its proximity to Route 3 between Columbia and Alton and also proximity to St. Louis, if there were facilities that were opened up in East St. Louis for those purposes, you can also have doctors who practice in St. Louis over to the Illinois side, set up practice, and they would also be able to write prescriptions for medical marijuana,” Taylor said.

Medical District Commissioner Greg Yanks was initially in favor of disbanding the group, but said shrinking the district maybe a good option if there were a way to have someone staff the commission.

“If the legislation can help (East St. Louis), and we’re the only body that can help them, if in fact we can, maybe we keep this alive,” Yanks said.

Contact reporter Joseph Bustos at jbustos@bnd.com or 618-239-2451. Follow him on Twitter: @JoeBReporter.

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