Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary Anne Mason Wednesday granted the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office two more months to investigate whether board members of the Forest Park-based Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District have been improperly receiving insurance benefits. 

The state alleges that the board’s president, Terrance Carr, was inappropriately receiving health insurance, paid for with taxpayer money, from the district.

A lawyer for the district, Edward Richard, said Wednesday that Carr currently “reimburses the district for the full amount of his health insurance premium.”

The extension comes at a time when state legislators are considering the elimination of Illinois’ only tuberculosis sanitarium. 

Cook County prosecutors are also investigating why board members of the suburban tuberculosis agency could receive more than $1.5 million in taxpayer money and are trying to determine if the members are entitled to the proposed employee severance packages if the district is disbanded.

Attorneys have been investigating two items in the organization’s proposed budget: the suggested allocation of $745,000 in severance payments and $768,000 in post-retirement healthcare if the agency is

The controversial retirement package, called “excessive” by district board member Raymond McDonald in a January edition of the REVIEW, involves an early retirement incentive program (ERI) that would allow employees 50 years old and older with 20 years of district service to retire early. 

Only seven TB district employees are eligible.

Dr. James Gallai, director of the Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitorium District wrote in an Oct. 8 letter that the incentive would encourage older, higher paid staff to retire and make way for new employees starting at a lower base pay.  He said the measure would save the district $210,000.

Board Members C. Louise Brown and Anwar Choudry resigned from the board last week in the wake of the legal battles.

Despite these two vacancies, which prevent a legal vote, the board has agreed to postpone voting on the matter until the lawsuit is resolved.

Although the district has not received official notification, Cook County Board President John Stroger is said to have appointed Steven Martin to the board.

Meanwhile downstate, Rep. Eileen Lyons (82nd district) proposed a bill earlier this month that calls for the dissolution of all Illinois tuberculosis sanitariums in counties with a population of more than 3
million people.

“The premise of [a tuberculosis sanitarium] is no longer necessary,” Lyons said.

She added that the districts were created when tuberculosis was an epidemic and that, although the disease still afflicts many people, the district’s services “are no longer needed.”

Lyons’ proposal calls for the transfer of the district’s responsibilities to the county board of health.

The Cook County Dept. of Public Health does not foresee any trouble in its ability to provide tuberculosis services.

“The Department of Public Health manages communicable diseases all the time,” a spokesperson for the Cook County Department of Public Health said. “Tuberculosis would fit right in with what [the department] does.”

Assistant state’s attorney Maureen O’Hannon told Mason Wednesday that the state hopes to “voluntarily dismiss” the lawsuit if the board continues to cooperate.

The Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District, created in 1947, is the only tuberculosis sanitarium in the entire state. During the last decade, the district has diagnosed and treated more than 1,400 cases of tuberculosis and sees 2,500 
patients on a yearly basis.

Karen Calabria is a writer for the Medill News Service.