Judge wants more answers on Huntley hospital permit

A Will County judge has ordered the Illinois Health and Facilities Review Board to explain why it reversed course and approved a permit for Centegra’s $233 million Huntley hospital.

The ruling comes almost a year after the state review board voted, 6-3, to approve Centegra’s plan to build a 128-bed hospital in Huntley. The decision came after the board twice rejected Centegra’s plans on the heels of staff recommendations that the plan failed to meet all of the state requirements.

Judge Bobbi Petrungaro on Monday ordered the board to provide additional explanation for the decision.

Petrungaro noted the administrative record on the plan has more than 9,000 pages of material and that the board’s decision permitting the Huntley project had the same one-paragraph explanation for approving Centegra’s initial application to the board.

“However, the decision contains no findings of fact, no adoption of the [state agency report], no indication as to which criteria and standards were met or were not met, no indication as to why the board must have disagreed with the [state agency report] and no conclusions by the board,” Petrungaro wrote.

In her ruling, the judge also cited a similar decision from an Illinois Appellate Court made July 12 concerning a $16.3 million nursing home project in Pecatonica, located west of Rockford.

The appellate court ruled that “judicial review is impossible without a reasoned explanation by the board.” In the Pecatonica case, the state review board approved the project despite contrary recommendations from the board’s staff.

The rulings have left the state review board scrambling to make sense of the situation. Frank Urso, the attorney for the review board, said the board wasn’t yet clear whether the appelate court ruling, which establishes a legal precedent, would affect how the review board operates in the future.

“We’re still analyzing the decisions and looking at the best course of action,” Urso said. “We’re taking seriously what they are saying, and we’re going to answer their questions.”

Centegra officials are proceeding with the designing of the proposed Huntley hospital, as they prepare to unveil formal designs to the Huntley Plan Commission on Monday.

Susan Milford, Centegra’s senior vice president of strategy and development, said Centegra is “very confident” the review board’s decision will stand, arguing that the majority of projects that come in front of the board often don’t meet all of the state’s permit requirements.

“We are confident that the judge is trying to do the right thing by asking for more information on the board’s decision. ... It’s a matter of the judge trying to get more clarity,” Milford said.

The board’s reversal last year on the project riled Centegra’s regional competitors. Sherman Health, Advocate Health System and Mercy Health System all filed suit after the board’s approval.

Mercy Vice President Richard Gruber welcomed the judge’s ruling Wednesday. Mercy officials plan to keep a watchful eye on how the state review board complies with the order.

“I believe that transparency is something that is very, very important in the public review process, and I think that it’s important that it gets enforced once in a while,” Gruber said.

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