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After acquiring Presence Health, AMITA walks away from $5.5M city subsidy

The surprise move comes two weeks after the Chicago Board of Ethics slapped Ald. Edward Burke with a $2,000 fine for presiding over the committee meeting at which the subsidy was approved.

Ald. Edward M. Burke heading to court in January 2019 after being criminally charged.
Ald. Edward Burke was fined for presiding over the meeting at which a $5.5M subsidy to AMITA Health was approved; Burke’s firm had represented AMITA on an unrelated matter.
AP Photos

Last year, a divided City Council signed off on a $5.5 million subsidy to Illinois’ largest Catholic health system, in spite of Presence Health’s anti-abortion policy, after an emotionally charged debate that focused on the volatile issues of race and a woman’s right to choose.

The 31-to-18 vote was one of the closest votes of retiring Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s eight-year administration.

Now, AMITA Health is literally walking away from that subsidy without explanation, giving Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot a small but unexpected windfall to spend on more pressing needs.

The decision to forfeit the $5.5 million tax increment financing subsidy comes just two weeks after the Chicago Board of Ethics slapped Ald. Edward Burke (14th) with a $2,000 fine for presiding over a Finance Committee hearing on Jan. 12, 2018 when aldermen debated and approved the money.

After acquiring Presence Health in December, AMITA Health CEO Mark Frey said the company began an “extensive, multi-phase integration plan essential for navigating the complexities” of an acquisition involving ten hospitals.

During the transition, AMITA Health “requested an extension for finalizing the previously-approved TIF agreement.

“Upon further study of the agreement, AMITA Health has decided not to complete the paperwork required to finalize the Presence Health TIF agreement,” Frey was quoted as saying in an emailed statement.

“With this decision, AMITA Health will forego $5.5 million in TIF funding that would have been collected by finalizing the agreement, while continuing to fulfill our commitments under the agreement to enhance access to care in underserved communities. AMITA Health’s decision to relinquish the TIF allows the city to reallocate these funds toward other pressing priorities, and provides AMITA Health the necessary flexibility to make non-clinical staffing decisions at its Chicago headquarters.”

Frey noted that, under the now-cancelled TIF agreement, AMITA Health has “already invested more than $15 million in city neighborhood projects to increase healthcare access for underserved communities.”

They include a cancer center on the West Side and three medical homes serving primary care needs in the Avondale, Belmont-Cragin and Calumet Heights neighborhoods.

Those are the same neighborhood projects cited by proponents of the subsidy during the heated City Council debate.

“AMITA Health’s decision to forego the TIF funds will not impact these projects. We remain committed to operating these clinical facilities, all of which serve as vital points of care in the community,” Frey was quoted as saying.

“Additionally, AMITA Health will be maintaining a headquarters office at 200 S. Wacker Drive.

“Thanks to the support of many committed city officials, access to healthcare has been enhanced for these underserved communities. AMITA Health looks forward to many years of partnership with the City of Chicago to continue bringing improved access to care to all those we have been called to serve.”

The statement made it clear that AMITA would “not be fielding any additional questions at this time” about the surprise decision to forfeit the subsidy.

Ameri Klafeta, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Illinois, was delighted to learn that AMITA Health had decided against “using taxpayer funding while it denies basic reproductive health care to women.”

”Any funds provided by Chicagoans should not be used to discriminate in any way, shape or form,” Klafeta was quoted as saying in a statement.

In issuing its fine, the Board of Ethics stated:

“The alderman had properly disclosed to the Board of Ethics that he intended to recuse from a matter involving Presence Health Care, which entity his law firm represented on an unrelated matter within the 12 months prior to the meeting, but presided over that portion of the meeting at which the Presence matter was discussed, introduced witnesses, and answered procedural questions from his colleagues.”

Although Burke subsequently recused himself from the vote on the Presence Health subsidy, the Ethics Board unanimously agreed on April 26 that his involvement in the meeting and debate “constituted participation in the matter.”

The Presence Health subsidy was promised years ago to convince the health care giant to bring its headquarters to 200 S. Wacker Dr. In return, the company agreed to bring four community care centers to underserved Chicago neighborhoods.

Days after Burke allegedly went over the line, a divided City Council gave its final OK to the subsidy after an emotionally charged debate that focused on the volatile issues of race and a woman’s right to choose.

The $2,000 fine is a small-time problem compared to the attempted extortion charge against Burke and the June 7 deadline federal prosecutors face to indict Burke.

On Jan. 3, Burke was charged with attempted extortion for allegedly shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Lake Forest businessman Charles Cui plead not guilty to federal bribery charges for hiring Burke to handle property tax appeals in exchange for the now-deposed Finance Committee chairman’s help with a sign for a new Binny’s Beverage Depot that was part of the development Cui was building in Portage Park.