TB District plan needs work

Opinion

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By now, village officials should hopefully have the Secretary of Defense's office and all local legislators at the top of their speed dials to ensure that the Naval Reserve Center on Roosevelt Road closes in its entirety. We sure hope these officials have a lot of anytime minutes, because they're going to need to start working the phones all over again if the current plan for the closing of the Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District (TB District) goes into effect.

The plan, which was recently approved by the State Senate and will likely be approved by the House as well, calls for the treatment of TB to be merged into the county health system. It has received much acclaim in both major Chicago newspapers, which seem to see it as highly commendable elimination of waste in the property tax system.

The elephant in the room that nobody seems to be talking about, however, is the fact that under the plan, the district's three buildings, in Forest Park, Des Plaines and Harvey, will remain open and their employees will remain on the county payroll. More than likely, if the county adopts the district's responsibilities, it will at some point do the same with its tax levy. A few politicians get some good press, while taxpayers continue paying unnecessarily. They just won't have a specific line item to point to as the source of the rip-off.

Sen. Don Harmon, the sponsor of the legislation to close the district, wants to see the three buildings be used as more holistic respiratory health treatment centers, treating TB as well as other afflictions, including avian flu. If a detailed plan was presented explaining how this will happen, perhaps we'd change our position. Though we are confident that Harmon will continue to fight for his vision, the current legislation does not mandate that he gets his way, and is therefore unsatisfactory.

The district currently treats somewhere around 100 active TB cases per year. Its latent TB cases are mostly handled by traveling nurses going door to door to ensure that patients are taking their medicine. Maybe they occasionally come in to get some shots, but that's about it. Though we know hospital beds are in short supply, it's difficult to imagine that the county's existing facilities couldn't handle this extra load.

The bill gives the county the option to not only impose its own tax levy for TB treatment, but for treatment of other diseases as well. It does not, however, provide any guidance concerning how these theoretical respiratory treatment centers would operate.

Surely, the three TB buildings could not treat every respiratory infection in the county. Most likely, they would be used to treat corollary diseases in TB patients, in which case we still have three buildings designated for the treatment of an ailment that went out of style around the time that disease ridden early 20th century housing tenements were hit with the wrecking ball.

We know we can't be the only ones in Forest Park scratching our heads at the current plan, especially considering the prime location of the district's Desplaines Avenue facility. We hope that we're also not the only ones urging legislators to either present a plan for a worthwhile use of these buildings or open them up to development.

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