Friday, April 17, 2009

New leadership for a board with history of corruption

by Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn announced today his pick to run the state health planning board that has been recently plagued by scandal.

At a Chicago news conference, Quinn named Dr. Quentin Young, his one-time personal physician and an advocate for health care reform, to chair the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. Young has served as chairman of the Department of Medicine at Cook County Hospital and president of the American Public Health Association. He is currently the national coordinator for the universal health care advocacy group, Physicians for a National Health Program.

The board approves major construction projects and equipment purchases for health care facilities in Illinois. They could include such improvements as “who gets to have an MRI machine and who gets to build a new wing,” according to Chris Mooney, political studies professor with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

The choices the board makes have a substantial financial impact on many in the health care industry. Because of that, Mooney described the board as “a place that has attraction to those who are interested in making money.”

That apparently was the attraction that drew former board member Stuart Levine, and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich fundraiser, Tony Rezko to seek control of the board. The two used their influence over the body, which also considers proposals for new hospitals in Illinois, to pressure interested parties for kickbacks. Levine, a former board member, has pleaded guilty to corruption charges, and Rezko, a friend and adviser of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, has been convicted on corruption regarding their dealings with the board.

Mooney said that past corruption on the board does not mean that there will continue to be problems under new leadership.

“Obviously some pigs went to that trough,” He said. “But that doesn’t mean that would always be the case.”

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