Suburban leaders upset over plan to close Chicago Heights hospital

SHARE Suburban leaders upset over plan to close Chicago Heights hospital
SHARE Suburban leaders upset over plan to close Chicago Heights hospital

Mayors of the city of Chicago Heights and neighboring suburbs aren’t happy with a plan by Franciscan Alliance to tear down most of St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights and shift inpatient care to its sister hospital in Olympia Fields.

And they’ve joined with state legislators and large social service agencies from suburbs such as South Chicago Heights, Ford Heights, Steger, Crete and Beecher to fight the plan that still requires approval by the state.

“Over the last 100 years, countless lives have depended on St. James Hospital, and while the facility is in Chicago Heights, eliminating critical services will negatively impact tens of thousands of patients from the surrounding communities,” Chicago Heights Mayor David A. Gonzalez said.

“We understand the changing nature of the health care industry, but maintaining the health and safety of our residents, as well as the patients that rely on St. James Chicago Heights, is our priority. We have contributed significantly to its success, and in return, we expect more from them than to just walk away.”

The emergency Healthcare Task Force that will come together on Thursday will evaluate patient and economic impacts of the proposed closure on the suburbs and come up with mandates and a report to be issued to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board that must approve the hospital’s plan.

The Franciscan Alliance board in October announced the $137 million restructuring for Franciscan St. James Health’s 189-bed medical center in Chicago Heights and 130-bed hospital in Olympia Fields. The project calls for consolidating inpatient services at the Olympia Fields campus and demolishing most of the Chicago Heights campus, while expanding an urgent care center and outpatient services in Chicago Heights.

The Mishawaka, Indiana-based network of 13 Catholic hospitals expects the plan to yield savings of $20 million a year for its only two Illinois hospitals, which have battled financial challenges leading to shuttering of 25 percent of total beds at each in recent years. The hospitals were put up for sale in June 2013 then pulled off the market in May 2014 after the network said it had seen a financial turnaround from cost-cutting efficiencies.

Franciscan St. James President Arnie Kimmel insisted that community engagement had been part of the process of arriving at the plan, saying a steering committee of community stakeholders that included local elected officials had met over seven months this year to evaluate health care needs and the hospitals’ future viability.

“First of all, the thing to say is that the community engagement continues,” Kimmel said. “But I think so far there is a fair understanding of what we’re doing and why, and I think as more people come to understand, there will be considerable support.”

But members of the task force coming together this week say many only learned of the plan through media. Over 40,000 patients are treated in the emergency room at St. James Chicago Heights annually, with 18 percent of those admitted, task force members said.

Franciscan Alliance intends to submit its plan to the state review board in the spring and hope to complete the restructuring by mid-2018.

“The plans that Franciscan have shared with me show little more than parking lots in return for diminished health care options for this area. The last time I checked, parking lots don’t deliver babies; parking lots don’t take care of accident victims; and parking lots certainly don’t save lives,” Gonzalez said.

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