A coalition of hospitals last Tuesday announced a statewide campaign to avert what it sees as a potential crisis in health care services to poor and uninsured patients.

SAVE, the Campaign to Save Illinois Community Hospitals, involving 16 not-for-profit medical facilities across the state, will begin lobbying for renewal of the Illinois Certificate of Need (CON) program. The certificate program is designed to restrain rising health care costs by preventing the unnecessary construction or modification of health care facilities.

The Illinois Health Facilities Planning Act, which initiated CON, is set to expire on April 1, 2007, an event the coalition fears would lead to unrestrained construction of unneeded health care facilities. Without a regulatory process, the coalition claims that residents in poorer communities risk being cut off from health care access because providers would be free to pass them over in favor of more profitable demographics.

“If anyone with money can just put a hospital anywhere, they’ll pick affluent or well-served communities,” said Lisa Lagger, spokeswoman for Provena Health, a member of the hospital coalition. “We need to make sure there is appropriate allocation of commodities across the state.”

Through CON, the state Health Facilities Planning Board issues permits for construction or modification projects. To obtain a permit, a facility must show that a proposed project is needed and is financially and economically feasible.

The board is an independent, five-member commission appointed by the governor with Illinois Senate confirmation.

Scandal rocked the board in 2005 when ex-board member Stuart Levine was indicted on charges that he helped deny permits to hospitals that refused to hire politically-connected financiers and contractors. Levine pleaded guilty in October to using his position on the planning board, as well as on the board of the Teachers Retirement System, in a plot to get payoffs and kickbacks.

State Rep. Eddie Washington (D-Waukegan), who co-sponsored legislation extending the planning act to 2007, said he doesn’t think “the boomerang effect of individuals” should result in the loss of this “very needed entity.”

Washington said the current board “has served its function and will continue to do so.”