FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS — If the city of Fairview Heights wanted to send the owners of property at 317 Salem Place a copy of the building permit while work was going on the past year, the Land Use and Development Department would have had to send it to a mailbox inside a UPS Store in Dallas.
The permit for the work at what would become a state-of-the-art Planned Parenthood Health Center in Fairview Heights would have gone to Raider Ventures LLC, the company name Planned Parenthood used to keep its identity secret.
When Planned Parenthood announced it would open a new clinic in Fairview Heights that the agency built in secret, many wondered how they were able to keep it under wraps, even from the city, and what rules it had to follow.
A review of the process indicates the organization did nothing wrong when it concealed from the world that it planned to open a clinic offering surgical abortions in this city known by many as the retail hub of the Metro East.
The clinic officially opened Wednesday, replacing its smaller location in a strip mall at the intersection of Illinois 159 and Frank Scott Parkway.
The new clinic doubles the capacity of patients it can see and is expected to draw patients from around the Midwest, including Missouri, where a legal battle continues to wage to keep the state’s only abortion clinic in St. Louis open.
In the weeks leading up to its opening, there was an anti-abortion rally outside of the building, which attracted hundreds of people. On Monday, Planned Parenthood held its own rally and ribbon-cutting to celebrate its new health center. The parking lot was filled with Planned Parenthood supporters, while abortion opponents stood outside an iron fence.
The facility, which also offers women’s reproductive health services such as birth control, family planning, cancer screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, was built in secret in a vacant medical building, which meant it did not need a zoning change that would require a public hearing.
Planned Parenthood was able to obtain its required building permit under a limited liability company, or LLC, called Raider Ventures, which has its address listed as a mailbox at a UPS Store at the Casa Linda Plaza shopping center in Dallas.
Use of an LLC is not uncommon, Fairview Heights Mayor Mark Kupsky has said, as the move is similar to an existing business moving to a larger location.
St. Clair County records show the building was purchased in 2017 for $1.5 million. It formerly housed medical offices.
Copies of building permits obtained by the BND show the size of the building is 16,347 square feet. Plans for renovations to the previously vacant facility were approved by the city on Oct. 30, 2018.
A conditional occupancy permit was issued to the clinic on Oct. 14, which allowed the clinic a month to finish final items such as a gate for its parking lot and enclosure for its exterior trash bin, Andrea Riganti, who is director of land use and development for the city, said in an email.
Contractors on Nov. 5, 2018, paid $15,255 for their building permit for construction cost of $3.6 million, city records show. The building permit application was completed by contractor Lubin Enterprises, based in Cordova, Tennessee.
“Renovation of existing 18,000-square-foot building. Building will be renovated into a medical office building,” the contractor wrote in the application.
In its request for a plan examination, the contractor said there would be demolition of interior finishes including walls, ceilings, electrical and mechanical components. Previous windows, doors and exterior walls also were demolished.
When reached by phone and asked about the project, Lubin Enterprises President Nathan Lubin did not appear to be aware the project was a Planned Parenthood clinic, and declined to answer further questions.
Yamelsie Rodriguez, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said the project was kept a secret in order to keep the project on schedule.
“The safety of our patients, our staff and our community is of utmost importance for any project Planned Parenthood embarks on,” Rodriguez said. “So in order to ensure we could open our doors and make sure our patients and staff can access the care they need without harassment, we took whatever measure was necessary to ensure a timely opening.”
Rodriguez added there has been harassment of contractors and providers at other clinics that perform abortions around the country.
“Our main priority was to meet the needs of the Fairview Heights patients, as well as the Missouri and southern Illinois community, so we decided to make sure we can open our doors as soon as possible,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the facility had to go through city code and fire department inspections in order to open.
“We followed all of the state local rules and regulations that any other medical provider that wants to open a business in Illinois has to go through,” Rodriguez said.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, who was the lead sponsor of the Reproductive Health Act in Illinois, which liberalized Illinois’ abortion laws, said she was angry Planned Parenthood had to keep its plans secret.
“What must have happened to put them in that position?” Cassidy said referring to murders of physicians who performed abortions and threats to contractors and suppliers.
“This is not about Planned Parenthood trying to keep something from the public eye,” Cassidy said. “This is about Planned Parenthood having to go above and beyond to keep people safe because crazy people are trying to kill them.”
No public approvals needed
Planned Parenthood didn’t need a zoning change, so the plans didn’t come in front of the city’s Planning Commission, Zoning Board or City Council. The agency also wasn’t required to present its plans to renovate the vacant building to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, which reviews construction or expansion of health care facilities to avoid unnecessary duplication.
And the Reproductive Health Act, signed earlier this year to make access to abortions a fundamental right in the state, formally removed a requirement that facilities that perform abortions obtain a license from the state Department of Public Health.
Under previous law, clinics that performed abortions needed to be licensed through a the Department of Public Health as an ambulatory surgical treatment center. However, that was never enforced because of a longstanding judicial injunction, Cassidy said.
“Just as with many of the other components of the outdated and enjoined laws on our books, that was part of what was removed,” the lawmaker said.
Cassidy referred to so-called trap laws, such as requiring that clinics meet building standards of hospitals. A trap law could include placing additional standards on clinics that aren’t medically necessary.
“It’s putting those sorts of restrictions on a facility that don’t apply to the health care provided there,” Cassidy said.
Others include requiring doctors at clinics to have hospital admitting privileges.
“They create these trap doors and trip wires that aren’t medically necessary. ... What is medically necessary for the health care we are discussing here? And let’s treat this like health care,” Cassidy said.
Having a licensed physician
Despite not needing a license from the Department of Public Health, the facility still needs to have a physician who is licensed by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The professional regulation department is the same department that regulates and licenses nurses, cosmetologists, architects, engineers, accountants, veterinarians, physical therapists and dentists, among other professionals.
Dr. Colleen McNicholas, the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, is licensed as a physician and surgeon in Illinois. Her license in Illinois became active on June 21, according to the department’s website.
Cassidy said doctors and nurses already have a high amount of oversight.
“Regardless of the kinds of health care they perform, doctors have to meet stringent standards, not just the preliminary education that lets them get their white coat, but ongoing process because it’s science, and science changes, they have to stay abreast of medical science,” Cassidy said.
“That’s what you want in a physician, that’s what you want in a nurse, that’s what you want in an advanced practice nurse or physician assistant, or any people who are providing care that carry a professional license. That’s what’s important, and that’s what any doctor has to maintain.”
Cassidy reiterated that Planned Parenthood offers a wide variety of services besides abortions.
“When we indulge this Planned Parenthood narrative that the other side pushes, we really neglect that so many people get their regular health care from these facilities, and in many cases it’s the only thing available to them in their community,” Cassidy said.
Construction of the clinic took place as abortion access is being restricted in Missouri, but expanded in Illinois. Missouri’s only licensed abortion provider, the Planned Parenthood location on Forest Park Avenue in St. Louis, will continue providing surgical abortions. That facility is involved in a legal battle over whether it can keep its license.
Planned Parenthood also is fighting Missouri in court over its new law to criminalize abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction pausing the abortion ban while it is litigated.
Joseph Bustos is a reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio. Joshua Connelly of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contributed to this report. Send comments and feedback about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.