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Will County approves health department loan repayment plan

Brock A. Stein | 5/20/2016, 10:24 a.m.
Under the terms of the plan, the health department will be allowed to defer repayment of just over $400,000 of ...
Will County Health Department Executive Director Susan Olenek addresses the Will County Board. Photo by Brock A. Stein

The Will County Board on Thursday approved a plan that will postpone the repayment of a loan it made to the health department until next year.

The county loaned $3 million to the Will County Health Department back in March to bridge the funding gap that arose from months of non-payment from the state of Illinois.

The plan approved on Thursday will postpone repayment of $426,000 of the loan until the 2017 budget year.

That means that the health department will repay just over $2.5 million to the county in 2016 as tax levy money begins to come in. A resolution passed by the Health Department’s board on Wednesday spelled out further that the payments would be made in July, August and October of this year.

Health Department Executive Director Susan Olenek told the board that while the repayment plan would help the department in the short term, the lack of state funding will mean that programs will still have to be cut because the funding sources aren’t sustainable.

“We used to know what the state budget was going to be. We used to know what the funding levels would be,” she said noting that in previous years staffers would already be working on next year’s budget but “there is nothing to put together.”

“We understand that moving forward into the next budget year we will have more decisions to make,” she said referring to further reductions in services and cuts to staffing.

The grace period to repay the $426,000, she said, will provide time for the department to begin transitioning patients and clients to other providers for services so as “not slam the door in their face.”

She said that the department staff, which is already accustomed to “wearing many hats” and doing more with less would have to do even more.

She said that the Family case management department would not be saved from layoffs and that the services that were provided would be shifted to its WIC division. Mothers looking for primary care, immunizations and other screenings would be covered under the affordable care act she said.

The cuts would ultimately save about $600,000 in the budget she said.

Olenek said that the health department’s board approved a $1.9 million plan in April that would suspend 6 programs, freeze any new hiring, and lay off 58 full-time employees to address the lack of funding coming from state grants.

Olenek said that the department has had to cut personnel 4 times in the in the last 4 years not counting its most recent planned layoffs.

She told the county board that the group had developed a strategic program analysis that “looked at services, staffing and finances” as a blue print for how to weather what she called the “perfect storm” of the ongoing budget stalemate in Springfield.

On staff at the county health department since 1986, Olenek said, “I have never seen such inaction of the state of Illinois.” She said that the department has always founds ways to work within the parameters of late state contracts and payments but nothing as protracted as the almost year-long budget standoff.