It's been a while since I've written, but a lot has been happening in District 1. I'll follow up on some of those items in a later post, but I want to focus today on Haymarket DuPage.
As you likely know, the US is experiencing an opioid addiction crisis. DuPage County deaths from illegal opioids increased 13 percent — from 72 to 81 — from 2017 to 2018. I know those who have been effected by this crisis, and I am sure that sadly, you do too. We absolutely need more treatment resources in DuPage County.
When I first was alerted to the possibility of these resources potentially coming to District 1, I was excited and hungry to hear the details. My first introduction to this project was a meeting on May 17, which I called into (others were attending in person, but I couldn't be in Wheaton during the day that day, so I called in to hear the conversation and ask questions). I recently went back to my notes from that introductory meeting, and wanted to summarize what I was told, as a way to explain why I agreed to sign onto the support letter earlier this summer:
the location was described as a former Holiday Inn which was located in an industrial area
we were also told that the tax revenue from the facility had fallen over the years and was very low now, making the loss much smaller than had been reported and that there was no interest in any company taking the building over
There was no mention of providing ambulance service, or of Itasca's concern around them, but we did discuss security concerns, how residents were monitored, what the program entails for patients and how comprehensive of a treatment experience it was for patients -- not simply detox, but a full recovery program to allow individuals to live productive, sober lives
With this information, I agreed to sign onto the letter. The letter addressed some more concerns, including a stated goal of being partners with Itasca and retaining private ambulance services. After the meeting and the letter, I was under the impressions that there were some issues to work through between Haymarket and Itasca, but that they were small and that this would be a job creator for Itasca, besides the benefit the county and surrounding communities would receive from this treatment facility.
Throughout the summer, I was honestly quite surprised to start seeing the opposition to this facility, and thought it was simply a case of more information needing to be shared.
Since the introductory meeting and the letter, I have been contacted by dozens of Itasca residents by email and phone. Very few comments or concerns expressed to me are anything I would describe as "NIMBY" (not in my back yard), rather, they are more substantive, specific objections to the plan itself. One was from a father whose daughter had a medical emergency and required an ambulance. He informed me that Itasca, because it is such a small village, only has one ambulance. He was deeply concerned about his daughter -- with the addition of a medical facility, would an ambulance respond as quickly if there was a "next time?" He then explained how of course, he knows people need help for opioid addiction, he just felt this specific location would harm families like his when resources were drained.
Last month, I attended an event hosted by Representative Diane Pappas in Itasca on August 22. It was a packed house and people were highly engaged in the conversation. It was an odd event to be a part of a panel of in some ways -- while we signed onto a support letter, no vote on this project will come before the DuPage County Board. In many ways, I saw the event as an opportunity to personally learn more about the proposal, assuming it had been more fleshed out in the weeks since I last received information about this proposal. I was most interested in the economic questions that residents and the Mayor of Itasca have asked, and I have to say, I wasn't convinced by the answers.
When a resident asked about what financial resources would be made available to Itasca in the event this project came to fruition, the answer was that another facility/community had received $3M in grants following the opening of a treatment facility. I marked down a question mark in my notes because my follow up question in my head was "well, do you have any lined up now?" That was my question, because my professional background is in philanthropy. Typically, when a non-profit is planning to open a facility or plans for a capital project, there are grants and donations that are secured early in the process to show you can raise funds to support the ongoing needs. I am not clear that that has been attempted in this case. I would think, given the business community in our county and the sheer number of families affected by the opioid crisis -- regardless of wealth or class -- that finding an engaged donor base to support a project like this wouldn't be impossible.
The ambulance/first responders concern was again brought up. One question was if there was any case in which Haymarket would call 911. While I absolutely expect that any individual would call 911 if there was a safety emergency -- and I would assume the hotel currently in that space has utilized 911 services on occasion -- I don't feel a clear answer was provided. They again discussed providing a private ambulance service, but I feel that's a separate question. Is there a limit of how many patients could be transported by a private firm and do your facilities ever exceed that limit at a time? Is there a timeliness concern with an extreme medical emergency in which a private company wouldn’t be able to respond as quickly? I'm simply not sure of how often someone would need medical transportation at a treatment facility. Perhaps the private ambulance service would be enough, but the lack of clarification and commitment worries me.
Most recently, I met with a group of Itasca residents last week. They provided me with a copy of the Economic Impact Study completed for Haymarket. I promised to take it home and read it carefully over the weekend, and I have. There are two main issues that are used to minimize the economic impact of the conversion of this property from a for-profit hotel to a non-profit facility.
The first issue is that the study repeatedly states that the hotel's taxable income is lower because many of their stays are extended stay. On it's face, that doesn't appear accurate. The hotel does not have rooms with kitchens. The average night stay at the hotel is less than 2 days, which wouldn't meet any typical definition of extended stay. I have a very hard time reconciling this significant discrepancy.
Second, the study also paints a much more dire vision of the Holiday Inn property than appears to be supported by the facts. While the reports paints a picture of a failing property about to close, the reality is that the property has a contract with Holiday Inn through 2021. The hotel itself has disputed the points about their lack of access to 290 impacting their business as well. While the property may need improvements to continue under the current brand past 2021, that isn't the only option for the property. I again want to re-iterate, I was under the impression from the introductory calls and explanations that the failing of this hotel was a forgone conclusion and imminent. Recent hires, and other feedback from the hotel make it quite clear that that is not true.
I had been reticent to remove my name from the support letter with a zoning hearing approaching on 9/18 because this is an issue for Itasca to decide for themselves. Because I don't have a vote on this issue, I worried that making a statement could have an undue influence when it likely shouldn't. After my meetings last week and reading the economic impact statement, I re-read the letter I'd signed on to. Ultimately my decision came down to "do I still agree with that letter? Do I think the statements made in it are truthful representations of the plan Haymarket has described to Itasca?"
I've decided I no longer agree or have faith in the statements made in the letter of support as a result of what I have learned in the weeks since it was published, and as a result, I asked Haymarket to remove my name from the letter.
The explanations given to Itasca about how Haymarket could address the loss of revenue and expected pressure on their first responders simply haven't been answered in a way I find convincing. Again, I have no vote on this matter and cannot effect if Itasca will be home to a Haymarket facility, however, I can no longer lend outsized support to a plan I find incomplete and that residents have been so organized and fact-based in their objections.