CHICAGO - Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Friday named prominent physician and activist Quentin Young to serve as chairman of the once scandal-tainted Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board that regulates billions of dollars in health care-related construction projects.
"It will well serve the people of Illinois to have someone of the reputation and character and experience and ability of Quentin Young to be at the helm of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board," Quinn said at a news conference. "He is the perfect candidate to bring integrity back ... and ensure the board is looking out for interests of Illinois citizens."
"I am well aware it [the board] has a troubled past and I will do everything I'm capable of doing to make sure it is in the service of the people of Illinois," Young said.
Young is 85 and, though retired as a physician, remains active in efforts to push health care reforms. He previously was Quinn's personal physician and was personal physician to Martin Luther King Jr. when King moved to Chicago briefly in 1966. He is a former chairman of the department of medicine at the former Cook County Hospital and served as president of the Chicago Board of Health. Young and Quinn walked across the state in 2001 to promote accessible health care for all.
The planning board, which has more than 30 construction applications currently pending, was at the center of corruption charges leveled by the federal government early in its Operation Board Games probe of state government that led to the indictment of former-Gov. Rod Blagojevich earlier this month.
Stuart Levine, vice chairman of the planning board in 2002 and 2003, led attempts with the help of the board's then-chairman Thomas Beck to force several hospitals to use Kiferbaum Construction Co. in exchange for board approval for their construction projects. Levine has pleaded guilty to various corruption charges.
Naperville-based Edward Hospital refused to use Kiferbaum and the board rejected its application for a new hospital and medical building. Former Bear, Stearns & Co. public finance banker P. Nicholas Hurtgen has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from that extortion scheme. He participated with the expectation that Bear Stearns would get hired to underwrite the hospital's bond deal.
The government's case has expanded greatly and been helped by Levine's cooperation, which allowed prosecutors to close in on Blagojevich, leading to the announcement of corruption charges in December and General Assembly impeachment proceedings.
Blagojevich and a handful of close associates were then indicted earlier this month for attempting to use the governor's office as a criminal enterprise, leveraging jobs, state contracts, legislation and board appointments to enrich themselves.
The Health Facilities Planning Board controversy prompted the General Assembly in 2004 to reconstitute the board, replacing all members and reducing the number of members to five from nine, with new members facing tougher ethics rules. The board has not since been accused of any wrongdoing or unethical actions but is the subject of pending legislation based on recommendations from a task force.
The proposed legislation, which has passed the House, would expand the number of board members back to nine with not more than half coming from one political party and hire 13 new staffers.
Both Quinn and Young said they support the state's certificate of need program. Supporters believe it keeps health care costs down by ensuring that there is demand for new services in a region before they are built. Critics argue that market forces should dictate new health care facilities.
Some have also attempted to tie charity care to the certificate of need program. While hospitals may not need to show a certain level of charity care to win a certificate of need, Young's statements indicted he will look closely at those statistics in reviewing not-for-profit hospital construction applications. Charity care should be "proportionate" to tax breaks hospitals receive.
"To me there is no debate," Young said at the news conference.