Blackhawk Community Credit Union is canceling the construction of a new headquarters on Rockport Road and putting on hold its General Motors Legacy Center project in downtown Janesville.
The decisions were made in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertain economy, said credit union spokeswoman CeeCee Philipps.
The decision affects ongoing efforts to renew and rebuild downtown Janesville into a center of civic pride and entertainment.
Philipps said the economic uncertainty means the credit union cannot say what the Legacy Center will look like or even that it will be at 100 W. Milwaukee St.
The Legacy Center involved the restoration an approximately 107-year-old bank building for use as a museum dedicated to the history of the former Janesville General Motors assembly plant.
“We don’t know where our economy is going to be. We don’t know the outcome of this pandemic, so it would be irresponsible to say we are going forward exactly as we had planned,” Philipps said. “It is better for us to pause and assess.
“But we will have a Legacy Center. It will continue to be a focus,” Philipps continued. “It means too much to our community, to our board, to our members, to our employees. It will happen. Just what it will look like right now, we can’t say.”
The organization now will turn its focus to helping members and keeping the credit union strong, according to the announcement.
“This is us being responsible and being in line with our mission and values,” Philipps said. “We need to be ready to help our community heal, to help our members heal, when normalcy comes back to our world, to our community. It’s sure been a sad development for everybody.”
BHCCU previously had planned to build a combined headquarters and Legacy Center on South Water Street on the east bank of the Rock River, but it changed plans a year ago, designating two separate projects at different locations.
Former BHCCU CEO Sherri Stumpf said in January that she hoped the Legacy Center would be completed in 2021.
Stumpf left the organization April 24, Philipps said. Lisa Palma, a nine-year BHCCU employee, was named interim CEO.
Philipps said Blackhawk had not announced price tags for the Legacy Center or the headquarters building.
The credit union plans to hold onto the Rockport Road property “until things return to normalcy in our community and we can determine what’s the best usage of that space,” Phillips said. “We’re like everybody else right now, on hold.”
The former Moose Club building on the property has been razed and the land made into green space, but no new construction work had been done, Philipps said.
The credit union will continue in its current main office at 2640 W. Court St. The new building was intended to provide more room, but some employees have moved off site with the pandemic, and the organization will be able to go forward with the existing building, Philipps said.
BHCCU, which employs about 200 people, has not laid off anyone, Philipps said.
“We are lucky,” Philipps said. “There are so many businesses whose doors are closed right now, and we just pray every day that they’re going to make it.”
BHCCU is doing what it can to support local businesses and stands ready to provide its services to businesses as they seek to move forward, Philipps said.
The Trump administration shelved a document created by the nation’s top disease investigators with step-by-step advice to local authorities on how and when to reopen restaurants and other public places during the still-raging coronavirus outbreak.
The 17-page report by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators, and state and local officials as they begin to reopen.
It was supposed to be published last Friday, but agency scientists were told the guidance “would never see the light of day,” according to a CDC official. The official was not authorized to talk to reporters and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
The AP obtained a copy from a second federal official who was not authorized to release it. The guidance was described in AP stories last week prior to the decision to shelve it.
The Trump administration has been closely controlling the release of guidance and information during the pandemic spurred by a new coronavirus that scientists are still trying to understand, with the president himself leading freewheeling daily briefings until last week.
Traditionally, it has been the CDC’s role to give the public and local officials guidance and science-based information during public health crises. During this one, however, the CDC has not had a regular, pandemic-related news briefing in nearly two months. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield has been a member of the White House coronavirus task force but largely absent from public appearances.
The dearth of real-time, public information from the nation’s experts has struck many current and former government health officials as dangerous.
“CDC has always been the public health agency Americans turn to in a time of crisis,” said Dr. Howard Koh, a Harvard professor and former health official in the Obama administration during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009. “The standard in a crisis is to turn to them for the latest data and latest guidance and the latest press briefing. That has not occurred, and everyone sees that.”
The Trump administration has instead sought to put the onus on states to handle the COVID-19 response. This approach to managing the pandemic has been reflected in President Donald Trump’s public statements, from the assertion that he isn’t responsible for the country’s lackluster early testing efforts to his description last week of the federal government’s role as a “supplier of last resort” for states in need of testing aid.
A person close to the White House’s coronavirus task force said the CDC documents were never cleared by CDC leadership for public release. The person said White House officials have refrained from offering detailed guidance for how specific sectors should reopen because the virus is affecting various parts of the country differently. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The rejected reopening guidance was described by one of the federal officials as a touchstone document that was to be used as a blueprint for other groups inside the CDC who are creating the same type of instructional materials for other facilities.
The guidance contained detailed advice for making site-specific decisions related to reopening schools, restaurants, summer camps, churches, day care centers and other institutions. It had been widely shared within the CDC and included detailed “decision trees,” flow charts to be used by local officials to think through different scenarios. One page of the document can be found on the CDC website via search engines, but it did not appear to be linked to any other CDC pages.
Some of the report’s suggestions already appear on federal websites, but the document would have offered specific, tailored recommendations for reopening in one place.
For example, the report suggested restaurants and bars should install sneeze guards at cash registers and avoid having buffets, salad bars and drink stations. Similar tips appear on the CDC’s site and a Food and Drug Administration page.
But the shelved report also said that as restaurants start seating diners again, they should space tables at least 6 feet apart and try to use phone app technology to alert a patron when their table is ready to avoid touching and use of buzzers. That advice is not on the CDC’s site now.
“States and local health departments do need guidance on a lot of the challenges around the decision to reopen,” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “You can say that restaurants can open and you need to follow social distancing guidelines. But restaurants want to know, ‘What does that look like?’”
The White House’s own “Opening Up America Again” guidelines released last month were more vague than the CDC’s unpublished report. They instructed state and local governments to reopen in accordance with federal and local “regulations and guidance” and to monitor employees for symptoms of COVID-19. The White House guidance also included advice developed earlier in the pandemic that remains important such as social distancing and encouraging working from home.
At a briefing Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany echoed the administration’s stance that states are most responsible for their own COVID-19 response: “We’ve consulted individually with states, but as I said, it’s (a) governor-led effort. It’s a state-led effort on ... which the federal government will consult. And we do so each and every day.”
The CDC is hearing daily from state and county health departments looking for scientifically valid information with which to make informed decisions.
Still, behind the scenes, CDC scientists like those who produced the guidance for “Opening Up America Again″ are working to get information to local governments. The agency still employs hundreds of the world’s most respected epidemiologists and doctors who in times of crisis are looked to for their expertise, said former CDC director Tom Frieden. People have clicked on the CDC’s coronavirus website more than 1.2 billion times.
States that directly reach out to the CDC can tap guidance that has been prepared but that the White House has not released.
“I don’t think that any state feels that the CDC is deficient. It’s just the process of getting stuff out,” Plescia said.
Hospitals’ preoccupation with the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to put elective surgeries on hold, but some hospitals are starting to reschedule those surgeries so they don’t keep patients waiting indefinitely.
By the end of May, Edgerton Hospital and Health Services will have all of its services available again, but on a smaller scale and with processes in place to keep patients and workers safe, hospital spokeswoman Sunny Bowditch said.
Hospitals have been and will continue to be safe places, said Jim Schultz, CEO of Edgerton Hospital.
He said people should not feel like they have to avoid medical care because they might get sick at a hospital.
Officials from Mercyhealth, SSM Health and Beloit Health System say they will begin rolling out services gradually.
Beloit Health System will begin offering elective surgeries next week, CEO Tim McKevett said in an interview with the Beloit Daily News.
Janesville's two hospitals are working to secure equipment and supplies needed to process COVID-19 tests on site, which would get results to patients sooner.
Mercyhealth has started rescheduling postponed surgeries, procedures and appointments, according to a news release. A spokeswoman declined an interview, referring a Gazette reporter to the news release and email exchanges.
Mercyhealth officials believe the health care system can isolate and treat COVID-19 patients without putting others at risk, according to the release.
In-person visits will resume soon, but patients still can see their doctors through telehealth if they choose, spokeswoman Trish Reed said in an email.
“As we gradually move forward with rescheduling deferred procedures and appointments, we will adjust staffing accordingly,” Reed said in response to a question on whether furloughed employees will return to work.
Physicians at SSM Health will choose which surgeries or procedures should be rescheduled first based on patients’ needs, said Eric Thornton, president of SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville.
Danielle Mitchell, an SSM Health physician, said patients who need elective procedures such as orthopedic surgeries, hernia surgery, mastectomies and others could experience deteriorating health if they have to wait much longer.
Testing supplies are now more available, which will allow medical staff to test everyone for COVID-19 within 72 hours before surgery, Mitchell said. That will help staff take proper precautions and keep the disease from spreading while patients are hospitalized.
A person with COVID-19 could undergo an elective surgery, but it depends on the procedure, Mitchell said.
St. Mary’s and Edgerton Hospital and Health Services will continue to restrict visitors from their facilities.
St. Mary’s staff is working on revising a long-term visitor policy that will keep patients and employees safe while accommodating more services, Mitchell said.
Hospital revenue has declined nationwide because of postponed elective procedures and in-person services. However, Thornton said finances are not a factor when deciding which services to offer.
“(SSM Health) came here to care for the community, and the community has been amazingly supportive,” he said. “... We will be here for a long time.”
As services come back online, furloughed workers will return to the hospital and clinic, Thornton said.
Edgerton Hospital and Health Services has an advantage when it comes to reinstating services because it is a small community hospital, Schultz said. But he noted that small hospitals have been hit hard financially in the pandemic, and some have closed.
Edgerton Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital have received federal aid. Officials did not disclose how much.
Federal dollars are “critical” in helping small hospitals stay afloat, Schultz said.
Mercyhealth faces significant financial hardship not only from the pandemic, but also from its struggles to get adequately reimbursed by the Illinois Medicaid system.
Mercyhealth is facing a $30 million financial blow because of managed Medicaid issues in the Illinois market. That is in addition to financial losses caused by COVID-19, according to the release.
Hospitals have no timeline for returning to their pre-pandemic operations, Thornton said. Protective efforts such as mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing and temperature screening upon entry will remain for quite some time, he said.
Decisions will be based on how COVID-19 develops in the community, Thornton said.
“It looks to me that the trend line is increasing as far as (COVID-19) prevalence,” he said.
Rock County has the ninth-highest daily growth rate of COVID-19 cases in the country, according to data collected by the New York Times.
The uptick in cases is mostly because of increased testing, he said.
Hospital officials have to balance the number of cases with the number of hospitalizations, intensive care patients and overall hospital census when making decisions, Thornton said.
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