Streator firefighter Kurt Snow could have kept his head down and stayed silent. But he didn't. And Streator is better off for it.
Last year, Kurt was talking to everyone he could about a life-or-death issue that affected every resident.
In January 2016, Springfield-based HSHS closed Streator's St. Mary's Hospital and transferred ownership of the building to Peoria-based OSF HealthCare. OSF promised to continue the emergency room, and it did.
The problem: A state regulation barred ambulances from going to a standalone ER that had no attached hospital, which meant ambulances in Streator went to Ottawa or Pontiac. As a result, only people in private cars could go to the Streator ER.
In medical emergencies, seconds matter, so Streatorites were in jeopardy because of the regulation. Yet no one in authority shone the light on the problem — no press releases, no public meetings. It was kept quiet.
OSF officials requested a waiver from the rules in mid-2016. But when nothing happened, the hospital chain seemed to let it go. For 15 months, OSF and the state exchanged no written communications about the issue.
During this time, Kurt was telling everyone he could about this situation. He also told us. And we started looking into it and found he was absolutely right. After we ran a story, local state lawmakers said they would pressure the state bureaucracy to change the rules.
But when things seemingly bogged down, Kurt pushed the state Legislature to pass a law to give waivers to ERs without attached hospitals. He persuaded a Chicago state representative to introduce just such a bill. Not long after, the bureaucracy changed the rules, and most ambulances can now go to the Streator ER.
If it weren't for Kurt's work, the status quo may well have remained. Yet he received no formal recognition for blowing the whistle. He'll probably never be hailed at a chamber of commerce banquet. But he made a difference nonetheless.
While officials may see Kurt as a thorn in their side, I'm glad we listened to him.
Sad to leave
Over the years, readers like Kurt have helped me and my fellow reporters do our jobs. Their tips are key to getting news to the public.
I've loved covering Ottawa and Streator. I'm leaving to take a job as a reporter elsewhere.
I'll greatly miss this job and the people I've worked with. Leaving here will be sad.
David Giuliani is a reporter for The Times. His weekly column "As It Is" expands upon regular news coverage by adding his insight and ideas. He can be reached at 815-431-4041 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @tt_dgiuliani.