Winnebago County’s Board Chairman Scott Christiansen is defending himself after a ‘Rockford Register-Star’ article reported that a portable sauna which had been purchased with county funds and placed for a time in his home had been confiscated by the FBI.
It was reportedly one of many items seized by the FBI as part of an investigation into spending irregularities by Winnebago County. County officials say they asked the FBI to help investigate to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
County Purchasing Director Sally Claassen resigned in the wake of the investigation, but no one has been charged with any crimes.
In a statement, Christiansen says, “The wellness committee recommended the infrared unit be delivered to my house for a trial period since the health condition I had qualified for this treatment,” telling the Register-Star he was the ‘guinea pig’ for this type of treatment. He adds he returned the sauna over the summer.
In the article, County Human Services Director Kim Ponder told the paper, “….there’s nothing unusual about an employee keeping a sauna or any other piece of equipment associated with the wellness program at his or her home.” She added she felt the program, which has more than 300 participants, has been a cost-saving success by helping participants lose weight and get healthier.
Christiansen, who faces a challenge in the Republican primary from Rock Valley College Board Chairman Frank Haney, adding in his statement, “To try to tie a federal investigation into an effort to treat a health condition is inappropriate and simply politics of the worst kind.”
Christiansen, however, made it clear in the headline of his statement, “Disappointed in Journalist for Taking Advantage of Personal Health Issues for Headlines” that he was upset with the Register-Star and did not mention Haney, who was not quoted in the article.
Christiansen’s full statement is below:
Although I have no obligation to discuss my personal health, I am willing to disregard my HIPAA rights in order to be honest and direct with our community.
As the Winnebago County Wellness Center was being built, our wellness committee was preparing individualized plans for all employees. The Wellness Center was to include an infrared sauna, which is reported to be better suited to address certain health conditions.
The sauna was ready to be delivered prior to the completion of the wellness center being built.
The wellness committee recommended the infrared unit be delivered to my house for a trial period since the health condition I had qualified for this treatment.
It is not uncommon within individualized health plans that certain equipment is provided to individuals to improve health outcomes.
In my case, the sauna did not produce intended results.
Being a portable unit; it was dismantled and eventually returned to the wellness center where it has remained in storage.
Rockford Register Star reporter, Isaac Guerrero, spent time discussing this issue with the Winnebago County Human Resources Director to obtain the facts. However, he did not share those facts in the story he posted this evening.