A bill currently working its way through the Illinois State Senate would dissolve the Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District (TB District), integrating its responsibilities into the Cook County Department of Public Health.

According to its chief sponsor, Oak Park Sen. Don Harmon (D-39), Senate Bill 2654 is currently awaiting completion of amendments that will detail a one year plan to ensure that the transition goes as smoothly as possible.

“They do their work in a vacuum,” said Harmon of the TB District. “Most areas long ago integrated their TB services with their other public health services.”

If the bill were to pass, the TB District facility at 7556 Jackson Blvd. in Forest Park, as well as its other two locations in Des Plaines and Harvey, would remain open as respiratory health centers operated by the county.

“I would hope (the county) would be able to be more holistic and comprehensive at those facilities. The hope is that by legislative design, in the future they would service not only TB but other respiratory diseases,” said Harmon.

“There are often corollary diseases that go untreated in the current form…the department of public health can not only treat TB but can treat ancillary symptoms as well.”

TB District Board President Ray McDonald agreed that the district should expand the services it offers, but said he would prefer to do so while continuing to function as a separate entity from the county.

“We’re really good at what we do. The fear is that if we get absorbed we might not do as good a job,” he said. McDonald noted that, in addition to the 120 active TB cases treated by the TB district last year, the district also treats about 2,500 people with latent TB, which could become active if not treated. He also pointed to a recent increase in resistance to TB treatments.

According to the TB district’s annual report, the district dealt with a 32 percent increase in TB cases last year. In previous interviews, McDonald has attributed the increase largely to the increased immigrant population in the Cook County suburbs.

A letter to the Cook County board enclosed along with the report notes that the Illinois Department of Public Health assessed the district as above national objectives and above average state performance in treating TB in 2005.

“I’m not sure that it’s in the best interest of the public for us to be dissolved,” he said.

McDonald acknowledged that even the TB district’s own board is divided on the subject, noting that its vice president, Stephen Martin, favors the integration of the district into the county system. Martin is also the CEO of the Cook County Department of Public Health.

A previous push for the closure of the district, led in large part by Cook County Commissioner Anthony Peraica, resulted in the district agreeing to drop its tax levy to about $100,000 on alternate years, paying the remainder of its $3.5 million budget with funds acquired through the sale of its Hinsdale facility several years ago.

The current bill eliminates the district’s tax levy but allows the county to impose its own tax levy to fund the treatment of TB.

Though the district spent much time and money lobbying against the past attempt to eliminate it from the health system, McDonald said he will not attempt to resist whatever decision is made.

“I just don’t think that would be the proper use of money,” he said. “I’ve got to get on the phone and make our case to the politicians and explain we’re not in rebellion, we’ve been working very well with the Cook County department of health,” he said.

The bill would transfer all TB district employees to the county public health department, and would authorize the county board to transfer unused land belonging to the district to the Cook County Forest Preserve District.