County gets good news on Oak Hill


The Monroe County Board heard continuing good news about the Oak Hill senior living facility on Monday.

Oak Hill Administrator Brian Koontz updated commissioners on COVID-19 first, telling them there have been no new positive tests of any resident there since Jan. 13.  

He also said financial measurements for Oak Hill so far in 2021 are positive and are ahead of the budget schedule, despite impacts of the pandemic.  The skilled nursing facility component of Oak Hill is the strongest driver of the positive gains, he said.

Koontz said Oak Hill is requiring masks for all staff. Residents must also wear masks when they depart their rooms.  He added that wearing masks is also required of all visitors, and those visits must be conducted in designated areas only, and not in the resident’s rooms.  

He said some visitors are asking why they must wear masks there when businesses no longer require them and why they cannot meet in residents’ rooms.  

The rules are determined by the Illinois Department of Public Health and are part of an ongoing focus on keeping the virus away from Oak Hill and its residents, Koontz said.

“The results speak for themselves,” Koontz told the Republic-Times after the meeting.

One more piece of good news for Oak Hill is a recent change from a one-year license duration to two-year licensing by the state. This is rare and reflects the fact the facility has repeatedly proved to be well-operated without problems with procedures or operating policies.

Twentieth Circuit Monroe County Resident Judge Chris Hitzemann updated commissioners on the push to create a 24th Judicial Circuit, which would remove Monroe, Randolph, Washington and Perry counties from the current 20th Circuit – leaving only St. Clair County as the sole element of that circuit. 

Details of this development were first reported on the front page of the June 30 issue of the Republic-Times. Hitzemann said many details remain to be worked out, including funding and personnel for a new circuit. 

While the announced date for establishing a new circuit is not until December 2022, he said the county needs to work to ensure nothing gets lost in the transfer of responsibilities and authorities.

Sugar Spring Ranch wedding facility on Centerville Road in Columbia was discussed with commissioners by facility owners Greg and Melinda Meyer and their attorney, Tim Gutknecht.

The primary concern was whether a rebuild of the facility, which was destroyed by fire on May 30, will be permitted to operate as the Meyers wish, offering wedding ceremonies as well as receptions.

The commissioners listened to issues raised and directed the Meyers to work with the Monroe County Zoning and Building Department.  

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner told commissioners that Monroe County has been ranked 103rd  in this year’s annual U.S. News & World Report of excellent county health.  With a total of 3,143 counties or equivalents in the 50 states, that places Monroe County in the upper 3 percent nationwide.

Wagner told commissioners that the Delta variety of COVID-19 is spreading most quickly among unvaccinated people. 

“Like the flu, we are going to have COVID forever,” he warned, adding that the virus will mutate periodically and may require vaccine updates.  

Concerning school operations, he noted there is conflicting guidance, and school administrators are going to have to decide what to require or suggest.  

“We are here to support them,” he said. 

He noted however, that less than 1 percent of students quarantined last year for COVID-19 contacts ever tested positive. 

Finally, he said the question of whether previously unvaccinated people who developed COVID-19 are now protected without vaccination, is still open for determination.

Wagner’s final recommendation: “Get vaccinated.”

Monroe County State’s Attorney Lucas Liefer presented a resolution concerning county sales taxes on any possible future retailer of recreational cannabis within Monroe County.  

While there have been no requests to sell cannabis in Monroe County to date, it is necessary for the provision to be in place in case anyone does apply.  

The taxes would be 3.75 percent for any seller in the county’s unincorporated areas and 3 percent in municipalities.  The resolution was accepted.

Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger sought and received permission to expend $215,000 of Motor Fuel Tax funds to acquire rock salt and expand storage capacity and equipment at the highway maintenance facility for winter operations. 

Monroe County Ambulance Director Carla Heise informed commissioners that a recent attempt to sell the ambulance service’s 2006 Ford E150 resulted in only one bid of $1,368.15 by Emergency Remarketing of Willoughby, Ohio. The commissioners decided to table the matter for further consideration.

 Kevin Koenigstein of Columbia was reappointed to a three-year term as trustee of the Palmier Hill Cemetery Board.

The Monroe County Board will next meet in regular session at 8:15 a.m. Monday, Aug. 2, in the courthouse.

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