Illinois acquired the former Vibra Hospital in Springfield on Friday to use for COVID-19 patients who need medical attention but not intensive care. Gov. J.B. Pritzker approved the acquisition in anticipation of a surge in COVID-19 patients, using powers under the state emergency declaration.
The facility is in Republican State Rep. Tim Butler’s district. He said he is getting questions from community leaders about the deal that he can’t answer.
“I still have a lot of questions as to what exactly is the facility going to be used for,” Butler said . “How does this tie in to the capacity that we have at our local and regional hospitals around here?”
Butler said he would like to know more about the government’s response in his district - so he can answer these questions.
The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare the facility for use, according to a statement from IEMA. Pritzker holds a weekly briefing for state legislators, according to a statement from the governor’s office to the State Journal-Register.
Butler said acquiring a facility like this would normally take time, but COVID-19 is a serious issue and he understood if the governor’s team felt the need to obtain the building.
Another state representative with questions about the hospital is Mike Murphy, a Republican from Springfield.
He said he understands why the governor is planning ahead, but wants to make sure the state is spending wisely during the emergency.
“I haven’t seen any actual figures on what we’ve spent so far on this, and how they’re planning on paying for it,” Murphy said. “I think some things merit some kind of discussion with the (Illinois) General Assembly.”
Under the emergency declaration, the governor is allowed to spend money to respond to a crisis without having to ask the General Assembly to do so. At least some of the spending would be picked up by the federal government.
Both Butler and Murphy commended Pritzker on his communication with the general public, but they would like to see better communication from the governor along the lines of involving local and state leaders as well.
“We all know the governor is working hard, but he needs to remember that there are other parts of the government other than the executive branch, and it would be nice for him to include us, when possible,” Murphy said.
The city of Springfield showed an interest in the facility before it was acquired by the state. Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder said the city was planning on purchasing the building for $2 million dollars.
“The city council decided to place it on hold in case the state would be interested, or they may want to use it for the medical community,” Langfelder said.
Langfelder said the city could still have a chance to purchase the facility when COVID-19 passes.
Vibra Hospital is the first downstate alternative care facility.