Last Thursday, officials at Loretto Hospital hosted a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of construction on a new state-of-the-art Emergency Department.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, Water Reclamation Commissioner Barbara McGowan, Ald. Ike Carothers, Rep. Deborah Graham, state Senator Don Harmon, Dr. Joe Harrington, Loretto Hospital Trustee Vince Williams, Camille Lilly, Gail Lindo (Westside Health Authority), ER Director Dr. Lois Clark, 15th Dist. Commander Al Wysinger, Fire Chief Hardy, Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore,ABC Bank’s Sam Scott,Westside Holistic’s Cynthia Williams, ER Director Dr. Steven Meeks, Deborah Williams, Eyes on Austin CEO Jean Jackson, and Emil Jones’ special assistant Kevin Bell (also Sen. Lightford’s nephew) were among the many guests gathered for the celebration.

Loretto President Steve Drucker said, “We felt strongly that the new emergency room should stand as a symbol of our appreciation for Senator Lightford’s steadfast support over the last 10 years. Despite cuts in health care funding which drastically affect small, community-based hospitals like Loretto, Lightford has been instrumental in securing much-needed monies that have helped the facility continue its mission to provide important services and programs to residents of Austin and surrounding areas.

Well-known businessman Michael C. Fountain, director of Consumer Services with the Illinois Commerce Commission, served as MC. Fountain kept the event moving, funny and interesting.

Sen. Lightford said, “OK, my secret is out. I’ve called my secret weapon ‘firestorm,’ but really the truth is, I ain’t too proud to beg. Year after year in Springfield I beg in my own little way to make sure resources come back to the Austin community. Education is my passion, my heart, and this has been my second passion. When you think of health care and you think of the people in the community, why not have the best quality health care in your own town? Why do you have to go out to receive quality health care? It’s not fair, and it’s not going to happen here in the Austin community.

“Someone said at the board meeting, ‘You get the money, we’ll name it after you.’ I didn’t ask them to. My personal journey and my understanding and relationship with Christ is that he put me in this position to help others whose voices had not been heard, right here in the Austin community.”

The senator acknowledged all the various individuals who have helped keep Loretto open. She talked about how Loretto Hospital was going to close down unless the boilers were repaired. She obtained the $3 million in state funds with the support of Senate President Emil Jones.

Ald. Carothers said, “I’m honored the 29th Ward was chosen as the place to have a facility named after Senator Kimberly Lightford. She has been a friend for a long time and doing great work in Springfield. If you look at what is happening in Springfield today, a lot of people are critical, but, believe me, don’t blame it on the members. The leadership has some issues-it’s not the members. We’re in the city right now seeing how much we’re going to raise your taxes. I’ve got to tell you the truth, we’re trying to scale them back as much as we can. The fact of the matter is when you see improvements like this, when you see new emergency rooms coming up in your community, that softens the blow to know that at least the tax dollars are going in the right direction and used for the right purpose.”

Loretto’s new Emergency Department will feature 14 private exam rooms and state-of-the-art medical technology. The new Emergency Department is scheduled to be completed in early 2009. The hospital’s normal emergency services will continue throughout the renovation.