Johnson proposes regional medical center
By Joe Baker
Mayoral candidate Dennis Johnson is using a word seldom heard in local political campaigns. That word is vision.
Johnson has a vision of what he believes Rockford can be. One of the main goals of that vision is to transform the city into a major medical center for the upper Midwest.
Rockford needs enthusiasm. It needs excitement. It needs vision, Johnson said. One thing were really good at is medical care. Its the second largest industry in the city, he said.
Johnson said research shows that last year, northern Illinois residents spent more than $100 million on medical care, outside our region. Thats some potent economics.
A majority of that care could have and should have been provided in Rockford, Johnson said. We have the technology and the expertise to serve these people. All we need is the leadership to make this happen, he said.
Johnson noted the healthcare industry locally employs some 16,000 people in medicine and allied fields, with an annual payroll of close to half-a-billion dollars. We have more than 600 highly skilled physicians, and our three hospitals enjoy outstanding reputations for their level of care. We also have the University of Illinois School of Medicine, which is a top level institution for medical education and research.
I believe the three Rockford area hospitals and the University of Illinois College of Medicine should be part of a consortium, which will promote Rockford as an excellent medical center, much like the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Johnson said.
Such an effort would not only capitalize on the exemplary health care we already provide to the people in the Greater Rockford area, but provide an excellent opportunity to enhance economic development in this city, he said.
Johnson said 25 percent of our hospital population is from outside the Rockford area. He said we should be drawing patients from a far larger area, including Iowa, Wisconsin and central Illinois. He observed residents of Dixon, Rochelle and Freeport already utilize clinics affiliated with our local hospitals.
I believe it is time for Rockford to take advantage of its unique position in the healthcare industry, Johnson said. The I-90 corridor is bringing people northwest, closer and closer to the Rockford area. These people will need quality healthcare, and we are in a position to provide it, he said.
Accordingly, Johnson has asked Dr. Robert Eichmann to chair the committee that will furnish the initiative to carry out the process of making this plan a reality.
In the years I have spent in public service and the private sector, I have learned that things worthwhile do not always come easy, Johnson said. Dr. Eichmann will solicit the help and cooperation of many inside and outside the medical community. This effort will have the full support of the city of Rockford in a new administration with fresh vision, he said.
Johnson is a member of the board at SwedishAmerican Hospital. Swedish American has had unsucessful merger efforts with both St. Anthony Medical Center and Rockford Health Systems. Swedish American is also proposing a controversial expansion which will close a section of Charles Street, displace private property owners through eminent domain and make a major demand on area Tax Increment Finance funds. The River District board has stated their formal opposition to the plan in its present form. Johnson said if he is successful in his bid for mayor, he will resign from the Swedish American board.