Residents, health providers push back against possible health department changes


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Mayor Steve Hagerty at a City Council meeting. He said Monday that “tough decisions” will have to be made in this budget cycle.

Kristina Karisch, City Editor

Possible cuts to and restructuring of the Health and Human Services Department took center stage among resident concerns on Monday as aldermen began discussing the city’s proposed 2019 budget.

The proposed budget is about $319 million, down about $19 million from last year’s numbers. The proposal sets to fill an estimated $7.4 million deficit resulting from a general fund shortfall, plans for a new Robert Crown Community Center and the replenishment of recently depleted reserve funds.

To fill the hole created by the deficit, staff recommended employee reductions to eight departments, including cutting seven Health and Human Services Department positions. However, the proposed restructuring of the department could put the unit’s status as a health department at risk.

One of the positions that would be eliminated is the communicable disease surveillance specialist, which Illinois state law requires to be filled in order for the health department to remain recognized.

Mayor Steve Hagerty said at Monday’s City Council meeting that “tough decisions” will have to be made in this budget cycle.

Don Zeigler, who is chair of the Evanston Health Advisory Council, expressed his concern with the suggested cuts and restructuring.

“Three of (the cuts) would effectively end the health department’s effectiveness and certainly its certification status,” Zeigler said. “The loss of certification threatens our ability to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal and state programs.”

Mark Schroeder, NorthShore University HealthSystem’s director of community relations, read a statement on behalf of Evanston Hospital’s president, Doug Silverstein.

“We recognize that there are difficult decisions that need to be made and believe that the health of the community and its residents should remain a priority,” he said. “We urge the City Council to ensure the important functions provided by the health department still be available to Evanston residents.”

The proposed budget also suggests a $250,000 cut to the Mental Health Board’s funds and it suggests a proposal to contract with the YWCA Evanston/North Shore to provide crisis response for domestic violence victims to make up for the eliminated positions.

Jessica Sales, who chairs Evanston’s Mental Health Board, said she is primarily concerned with the proposed cuts to the board’s funding, but wants to make sure the budget as a whole is representative of the city’s values.

“When we are looking at this budget, (can we) put ourselves in the shoes of the people that this is going to affect the most?” Sales said. “I want this budget to show that we are a place, that we are a town where we … love people, we welcome people, we support people and we hear people and we stand up for people. And I’m really worried that that budget doesn’t send the message.”

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