A “financial assistance agreement” entered into between Advocate Christ Medical Center and the Village of Oak Lawn may have less public support in light of an announcement this past week by the University of Chicago Medicine and Sinai Health System that it will build a $40 million joint adult trauma center for the South Side at Holy Cross Hospital which should result in less Chicago traffic to Advocate.
The decision to finally develop another Level 1 trauma center not only affects some of the most violent neighborhoods in the City of Chicago such as Englewood and Washington Park but also the Village of Oak Lawn, which is home to the nearest current Trauma 1 center, Christ Advocate Hospital.
The south side of Chicago has suffered without an adult trauma center, which handles gun shot wounds as well as other difficult injuries, since Michael Reese Hospital closed its center in 1991. The result of that closing, and the lack of any other trauma 1 centers, forced the transportation of victims to Advocate Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn. Often news cameras from Chicago’s television stations have started their reports from Oak Lawn about a shooting located as far as ten miles away in Chicago.
The lack of services has caused protests among Chicago’s African American community on the south side while also causing complaints among Oak Lawn’s political establishment during the same time frame. Former Village Trustee Harold Mozwecz, once proposed charging Advocate Christ Hospital, in the early 1990’s for the additional police personnel that is often called to the hospital. That proposal died during the tenure of former Mayor Ernie Kolb but was revived years later under the leadership of Village Manager Larry Deetjen in a slightly different form.
Advocate Christ Medical Center entered into a “Financial Assistance Agreement” with the Village of Oak Lawn that will provide the village payments totaling $1,167,000.00 over three years as a “contribution”. The last payment is due in January of 2016.
The $1,167,000.00 contribution or “impact fee”, as it has been previously referred to, is significantly less than the $2.4 million dollars that Village Manager Larry Deetjen had previously claimed was the goal. In fact, Deetjen told Trustees that the hospital had agreed in principle to pay the higher fee.
Former Village Trustee Tom Duhig (Dist. 4) had been the most vocal critic of Advocate Hospital on the previous board and had demanded an impact fee. Duhig was defeated in the April municipal election by Trustee Terry Vorderer, (Dist. 4) even though Advocate Christ Hospital is located in the fourth district.
Trustee Robert J. Streit (Dist. 3) called the negotiations resulting in the lesser fee a failure because of the minimal amount that the village was able to extract from the hospital. Streit noted that the hospital had previously agreed to a “historic partnership” with the village in which the hospital would develop multiple areas in the village. One of the developments was supposed to be a new senior and community center to be built on the site of the old Beatty Lumber Yard in the center of the village. That agreement was nixed by Mayor Bury and her allies on the board. The Beatty property was then listed for sale and remains as an eyesore in the center of town next to the Metra station.
Streit noted that economic development that would have been spurred by multiple redevelopments with the hospital would have provided much more in economic development than the “meager payments” promised for three years. Streit also stated that Southwest Highway was a prime location for massive redevelopment by the hospital. “The hospital told us that they would pay an impact fee or enter into a development partnership agreement but they wouldn’t do both,” said Streit. He added that the impact fee was “short sighted” compared to the long-term benefits of redevelopment and “a real partnership”.
Streit has previously attempted to push the village to participate in a “real partnership” with the hospital in the development of a senior and community center. “Our investment would have been minimal rent because a private developer had agreed to build the structure”, said Streit. The developer has experience building structures for Advocate.
Advocate Christ Medical Center, like all hospitals in Illinois, is chartered as a not for profit corporation and doesn’t pay property taxes pursuant to Illinois law. Some activities, such as sales of products or income generating fees are taxed.
In previous years, the village board, at the recommendation of Deetjen has attempted to raise funds from the hospital. Three years ago, the village also passed two ordinances designed to raise revenue for the village by instituting a parking lot and garage operations tax. The idea was to procure funds from the hospital. However, the hospital administrators “outsmarted” Deetjen according to one former elected official.
The former elected official stated, “Deetjen tried to force them to pay $800,000 a year from the parking lot through the tax so the hospital eliminated the parking fee and therefore the tax.” At the time, Deetjen based the impact fee idea on what he claimed is a similar agreement that Park Ridge has with Advocate in that municipality.
The stated purpose of the agreement approved by the board states, “Advocate agrees to provide the Village financial assistance payments for its community health services, emergency health services, and environmental health services in accordance with the (payment) schedule set forth below.” The agreement ends on December 31, 2016 and the parties have stated in the agreement that they will meet to discuss terms of renewal thereafter. Either party can terminate any renewal of the agreement with notice to the other prior to the end of the term.
Now, after hearing the announcement of the new trauma center, a highly placed source at Advocate said that it is “unlikely” that the hospital would willing to provide additional funding to the village. “The argument that the hospital has been a drain on the police won’t hold water in the future with the new trauma center,” said the source.
The agreement does not affect the amount of permit fees that the hospital pays to the village for construction projects such as their recent development, which grossed $2.1 million dollars in building permit fees. The ordinance regarding permit fees was passed by the former village board unanimously.
Deetjen admitted over a year ago that he told the board that $800,000 a year was the amount that should have fairly been paid but the village ended up settling for $1,167,000 over three years.
In addition to Duhig, Mayor Bury and several other candidates used the promise of much higher impact fees as a campaign issue. Despite promising that it could negotiate a much larger fee in the campaign, the board unanimously approved the lesser agreement of only $1,167,000.00 over three years.
The new trauma center partnership will include Mt. Sinai providing most of the medical personnel while University of Chicago will pay for the expansion of the Holy Cross facility and renovations. U of C has also agreed to provide the necessary specialists for the center.
Holy Cross will join Stroger Hospital, Mount Sinai on the West Side, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center as Chicago trauma centers. Advocate Christ Hospital is one of four trauma 1 centers in the suburbs, with Oak Lawn being the closest on the south side.