North Suburban Health Foundation says Niles high schools need to repay grant for closed clinics

By Jonathan Bilyk | May 16, 2016

A charitable fund associated with Evanston-based NorthShore University Health System is suing a near northwest suburban school district, alleging the district accepted foundation grant money to open school-based health care clinics, but then chose to close the clinics after less than a year in operation, essentially wasting the foundation’s money.

On May 12, the North Suburban Healthcare Foundation filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against Niles Township High School District 219, demanding the court order the school district to return $1.3 million the foundation awarded to the district.

The high school district includes Niles North, Niles West and Niles Central high schools, all in Skokie.

According to the complaint, the Foundation agreed in 2014 to partner with District 219 and Heartland Health Centers to open school-based health clinics at both Niles West and North high schools. The clinics were to be operated by Heartland Health Centers, a group that operates clinics in 10 locations on Chicago’s North Side, according to a press release issued by District 219 when the grant was awarded in 2014.

Court documents indicated the school district would provide $500,000 annually to help fund operations at the clinics.

The complaint said the agreement called on the district to spend the $1.3 million awarded by the Foundation to renovate and furnish spaces within the two high schools for the clinics.

According to the District 219 release, the school-based clinics would provide “physical exams, school and sports physicals, immunizations, evaluation and treatment of injuries and illness, chronic disease management, reproductive health services and weight management.” The clinics were also intended to “provide behavioral health services, including individual therapy, crisis evaluation and management, and family counseling,” the district release said.

At the time, the Foundation said one of its foremost priorities in helping the school district establish the clinics was to “support programs that promote improved access to quality healthcare for the uninsured and underinsured in our service area” and particularly to “the most underserved segment” of the local population, “young adults.”

According to the court documents, the Foundation said it exists to provide financial support for programs and organizations boosting community health care services in the area served by NorthShore’s Skokie Hospital.

The clinics opened in July 2015, and the lawsuit said the district “achieved substantial savings” of more than $500,000 per year by being able to eliminate “seven full-time equivalent positions on account of the addition of the Heartland staff present at the school-based clinics.” Further, the lawsuit said, clinic reports indicated the clinics provided care to more than 660 students from July 2015-Feb. 2016.

However, the lawsuit said the school district voted on April 5, 2016, to “terminate its partnership with Heartland and to close the school based health clinics after less than one year.”

The Foundation said the decision to sever ties with Heartland and close the clinics “is a breach of the terms of the Grant” awarded to the district by the Foundation.

According to the lawsuit, the Foundation warned the district before it moved to close the clinics that the Foundation considered the closures to be a breach of contract. And on May 2, the Foundation “demanded the return” of the grant money “within seven days.”

The lawsuit said the district refused to refund the money, saying “the Board of Education is not liable to pay the Foundation any amount and rejects your May 2 demand.”

The Foundation is represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP NorthShore University HealthSystem Skokie Hospital

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