SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — State investigators who grant and revoke medical licenses have opened an investigation into a sports doctor at Carle Hospital because of his personal stance opposing a mask mandate in schools, according to emails he says he received from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).
Dr. Jeremy Henrichs, a team physician for the University of Illinois’ Athletic Department, is also an elected member of the Mahomet-Seymour school board. Despite his opposition to mandatory mask rules in classrooms, the school district will still enforce the Governor’s new statewide school mask mandate and require all students to wear masks in class, according to documents posted on its website.
Before the CDC updated its guidelines to recommend masks for all students, Henrichs voted to approve a mask-optional plan that would re-impose masks if infection rates rose too quickly. At the time, that plan was in line with CDC guidelines. The board has not technically voted on the new plan that is in place at the recommendation of the school district attorney.
IDFPR regulates medical professionals, architects, cosmetologists, and a number of other industries in which workers are required to obtain a license to practice in Illinois. The Pritzker administration said the investigation was merely a matter of “due diligence” after someone filed a complaint, and offered assurances that the outcome of the investigation would not lead to the doctor losing his license.
“The Pritzker administration has not and will not seek disciplinary action against the professional licenses of individuals who disagree with the mask mandate,” Governor Pritzker’s spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said.
According to Henrichs, however, the inquiry itself was an improper use of government pressure that could weigh on his mind as he considers future votes to potentially lift a mask mandate.
“My constituents expect these decisions are made without coercion, intimidation or undue influence by any individual or entity, whether public or private,” Henrichs said.
In an August 11th email, a medical investigator notified Henrichs of an “official investigation,” and asked for a “detailed statement on your opinion about masks, and whether you support and will enforce a mask mandate based on your elected position as a school board member.”
An attorney for Henrichs, whose name was redacted from the emails, replied six days later to ask for a copy of the original complaint, questioned whether the agency had legal grounds to open an investigation in this case, and suggested the state was attempting to “coerce or intimidate a public official in the performance of his public duties.”
“What the medical disciplinary board wants to know is if the doctor will support and enforce the mask mandate by the Governor,” the state investigator wrote back in an email, adding that the original complaint likely came from a parent or a concerned citizen.
While Pritzker’s office said state investigators at IDFPR are required to open investigations whenever they receive a complaint about a medical professional, they did not explain why those investigations might also seek to gather information about a doctor’s personal views for their votes as public officials.
“IDFPR takes all allegations against licensees seriously,” a spokesperson responded in an email. “Complaints filed with the Department, as well as investigations undertaken by the Department, are confidential, unless and until a public complaint or discipline is issued by the Department. If the Department determines a physician violated the Medical Practice Act, an appropriate course of action will be taken.”
Agency officials have not yet responded to questions about the nature of or grounds for the investigation, though the medical investigator replied to Henrichs’ attorney that the probe “would fall under the unprofessional conduct part of the Medical Practice Act.” That particular state law authorizes IDFPR to yank licenses from medical professionals who are found to be “engaging in dishonorable, unethical, or unprofessional conduct…likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public.”
Other portions of state law strictly prohibit intimidating public officials to take action or withhold action against anyone or anything in the course of their official duties. Violations of that law could carry the penalty of a Class 3 Felony and a prison sentence of up to ten years.
Henrichs could not immediately be reached for an interview, but in a prepared statement, he acknowledged his skepticism of the CDC’s recommendations and warned that the state’s review of his medical license could have a chilling effect on him and other public officials.
“I have considered authoritative medical evidence that questions the necessity of mandatory masking in our schools,” Henrichs said in a prepared statement. “As a result, the IDPFR has threatened my medical licensure unless I expressly support and enforce a mask mandate for all students. The IDPFR has commanded me to “toe the line” or suffer personal and professional consequences. The IDPFR’s actions constitute a direct threat from the state to the well-being of my family and all board members to freely and independently exercise the duties of elected office.
“The health of our student body is something I place first in my public role,” Henrichs said. “However, the health of our democratic system is dead if we tolerate the intimidation targeting me and chilling the independence of innumerable other elected public officials.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect Dr. Henrich’s voting record shows he has supported mask requirements in some cases.