Questions raised over Senator Mark Kirk's rehabilitation status

April 11, 2012 2:53:05 PM PDT
New questions are being raised about the recovery of U.S. Senator Mark Kirk. The senator suffered a stroke three months ago and is now recovering at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

His staff has closely guarded information concerning Mark Kirk's health and the prognosis for his recovery. There are new questions about the senator and to what extent he helped write a report his office issued Wednesday morning.

His staff says Senator Kirk remains a patient at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where he continues his recovery from a major stroke suffered in January. Wednesday morning his office released an "Updated Report on Illinois Debt." The cover page indicated it was authored by the senator sometime earlier this month.

"He has had a huge impact on our state and continues to have that impact with reports like this," said Rep. Randy Hultgren, (R)-Winfield.

But Republican Congressman Hultgren, who presented the report at Kirk's downtown office, told reporters he had not seen or spoken to the senator beforehand and had no idea when Kirk might return to work.

"No timeline, we just want him to be healthy," said Hultgren. "We just want him to do what he needs to do. Obviously, Kirk is continuing to serve his constituents with reports like this."

During the first two weeks following the stroke, a Northwestern Medical Center surgeon updated Kirk's condition. Since he was moved to the Rehab Institute, there has been virtually no information on his recovery and to what degree he is involved in public policy statements issued by his office.

"The senator's office is making fair game of the issue of the public's right to know," said DePaul University Political Science Chairman Wayne Steger.

Steger said Kirk's office should issue an update.

"If the senator or public official in general is trying to influence public opinion through the use of their office, whether it's a press release and especially a news conference, certainly the public in a reciprocal relationship certainly has a right to know what is the condition of the senator," Steger said.

In 2006, voters were misled about the condition of Cook County Board President John Stroger, who was nominated for re-election after a stroke that eventually led to his death.

At the news conference Wednesday morning Kirk's staff was asked repeatedly for an update on the senator's condition. They responded, "Any health updates that involve the senator are being handled by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago."

Of course, under federal law, the institute cannot answer news media questions about patients, making this is a very difficult story to report. There is nothing more private than someone's health, but the condition of Senator Mark Kirk is not entirely a private matter.