AFSCME Local 1874, which represents 25 employees of the Kankakee County Public Health Department, including registered nurses, health inspectors, and support staff, made the allegation this week the County Health Department Administrator, John Bevis, is putting the community at risk.
“We’re calling on the Health Board to act immediately: Do the right thing, approve this leave and keep public health employees safe.” AFSCME Local 1874 said in a statement Tuesday.
The leave in question would take place during the time Health Department workers await COVID-19 testing results of their own. According to the Union, Administrator Bevis has already offered 10 days of paid sick leave to employees who are COVID-positive. The Union says it requested the additional leave to prevent exposing co-workers and the wider community to a potential viral spread before an infection has been confirmed.
“There have been no employees at the Health Department who have tested positive that we know of,” said Christian Hainds with AFSCME Council 31 on Thursday. “We have asked John to provide that as an option for people when it is practical to (work from home) but he has refused. His argument at the time was that people were safer at work than at home because it is a controlled environment.”
Union reps claim testing at the Kankakee County Health Department has been limited to every time an employee has called in sick, not done in bulk like other facilities have experienced throughout the County.
“Bevis’s position is especially ironic as county public health employees are the very workers on the front lines of fighting the outbreak to protect the people of Kankakee County.” AFSCME Local 1874 said in the statement.
Since Sunday, May 10th the Kankakee County Health Department has announced 203 new cases of COVID-19. There are now over 600 active cases in Kankakee County, with 35 confirmed just yesterday at Del Monte Fresh Produce in Kankakee.
Regardless of this week being the worst to date statistically in Kankakee during the pandemic for new cases, Kankakee County officials voted on Tuesday to move forward in reopening efforts. Reopening has been championed by State Representative Lindsey Parkhurst (R), Kankakee County Chairman Andrew Wheeler (R), and State Senator Patrick Joyce (D).
The Kankakee County Health Department receives oversight by the Kankakee County Clerk’s office. Kankakee ranks 8th out of Illinois 102 counties for COVID-19 positives this week. It sits behind McHenry (1,049), Winnebago (1,208), Kane (3,744), Will (3,973), DuPage (5,244), Lake (5,758), and Cook (56,406). Dupage County mayors are currently lobbying to reopen early as well, despite ranking third in Illinois for total cases. Officials argue that they are not Cook County. In fact, they are not. Last week, Dupage County cases were worse, up 31% while Cook County cases were up just 23%.
Bevis is one of the few Kankakee public figures on the front lines fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. We reached out to the Administrator Tuesday afternoon and asked why employees were not being paid to wait out test results. We also asked the Administrator if he felt the decision put his office or employees in danger.
As of Friday, no reply has been given by Kankakee’s Health Administrator.