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Mt. Vernon city leaders react to COVID-19 housing deal

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MT. VERNON (WSIL) -- Mt. Vernon city leaders say they've been "blindsided" by a deal to provide housing within the city to individuals affected by COVID-19.

In a release Wednesday afternoon, city officials said the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) has entered into an agreement with the local Drury Inn to provide COVID-19-related housing.

Last month, Mt. Vernon city and community health leaders submitted a plan to the state for the possibility of providing alternate housing for family members of those diagnosed with COVID-19.

But they say the guidelines changed after they submitted their plan.

“In March, the local Emergency Management team, including the Jefferson County Health Department, City and County officials, Crossroad Hospital and SSM Health Good Samaritan, submitted a local plan to the State for alternative housing under a different set of guidelines than what we believe IEMA considered for this plan. We understood that at some point in this pandemic, alternative housing might be necessary and that we should plan for it. We did know that the State was working on a plan for the region to house individuals to be placed in a location so that an affected family member could quarantine at home. What we didn’t know was that the guidance from FEMA had changed from what we were initially given and without any local input,” explained Mt. Vernon Fire Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator Kevin Sargent.

According to the city, an April 7th letter to local EMA coordinators said FEMA would reimburse costs to IEMA for the sheltering of:

  • Individuals exposed to COVID-19, but not requiring hospitalization;
  • Individuals who are COVID-19 positive needing isolation, but not hospitalization( including those exiting from hospitals); and
  • Asymptomatic high-risk individuals needing social distancing as a precautionary measure (i.e., people over 65 or with underlying health conditions).

"We were completely blindsided by this, even though we have had numerous meetings with all the agencies. Nobody saw this coming. Personally, I think our input regarding the community could have been a valuable resource in the decision-making process," said Mt. Vernon Mayor John Lewis. "Bottom line, this is a state and federal government initiative. I, like most other Americans, hope and pray for its success for all of us. But at this time I am not happy with what has been proposed."

“We were surprised to learn of this agreement for alternate housing between Drury and the agency. And, we know very little about the agreement, services, how this will be administered or if other local resources will be required,” said Mt. Vernon City Manager Mary Ellen Bechtel.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency confirms alternative housing locations could be used in the situations outlined above and would depend upon a referral from the local health department.

In Wednesday's release, Mt. Vernon leaders also referenced similar accommodations being made at locations in Effingham, Carbondale, and the Metro East. IEMA says there are no contracts in place in those areas at this time.

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