State review board holds public meeting on proposed closing of MetroSouth Medical Center

MetroSouth Medical Center has served Blue Island and surrounding communities since 1905 but owners have asked a state review board for permission to close the facility.

SHARE State review board holds public meeting on proposed closing of MetroSouth Medical Center
MetroSouth Medical Center in south suburban Blue Island has been purchased by Lockwood Development Partners

A request by the owners of MetroSouth Medical Center in south suburban Blue Island is still pending with the Illinois Health and Facilities Review Board.

Sun-Times file

Employees and residents expressed disapproval Wednesday over the proposed closing of MetroSouth Medical Center, which has served Blue Island and the surrounding south suburbs for over 100 years.

Owners of the hospital, at 12935 S. Gregory St., announced in June they want to close the 314-bed facility by the end of the year if no buyer is found.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board still must approve the closure, and the board organized a meeting Wednesday at St. Benedict’s Church in Blue Island. Two hearing officers — not board members — listened to comments both for and against shutting down the hospital.

John Walsh, CEO of MetroSouth Medical Center, opened by saying the hospital was in financial distress due to a growth of outpatient services at the expense of overnight stays, as well as cuts in government reimbursements. Walsh said they have tried to sell the hospital without success.

“Despite having an excellent medical staff and dedicated employees, more patients are choosing to leave the community for care,” Walsh said. “As a result, the hospital is losing millions of dollars a year.”

The facility lost an average of $2 million a year from 2014 through 2017, Walsh said. Then, last year, MetroSouth suffered an $8.4 million loss and is on track to lose more than $10 million this year.

“These losses are simply unsustainable ... we simply do not have the resources to continue running this facility beyond the end of the year,” he said.

Dr. Henry Shin, MetroSouth’s medical chief of staff, has been at the hospital for 21 years. He said the “degradation” of the hospital resulted from a series of short-term owners.

In 2008, a group of investors first purchased MetroSouth, formerly known as St. Francis Hospital, from its longtime owners. Then in 2012, those investors sold it to Quorum Health, a subsidiary of Tennessee-based Community Health Systems. In 2016, Quorum Health became its own publicly traded health care company.

“Each time a new ownership has taken control of the hospital, the quality of the services and staffing has been gradually degraded,” Shin said. “There has been a greedy profit motive that has led to all of this and that cannot happen in what we do.”

“I am very sad for my patients, this community and all the dedicated nurses I’ve worked side-by-side with for the last 21 years,” Shin added.

Dr. Henry Shin, a MetroSouth Medical Center cardiovascular physician.

Dr. Henry Shin, a MetroSouth Medical Center cardiovascular physician, speaks at a hearing Wednesday, organized by a state review board that would ultimately have to approve the hospital’s closing. Shin pleaded with board members to keep the south suburban hospital open.

Manny Ramos/Chicago Sun-Times

Barb Bensema has been a labor and delivery nurse with MetroSouth for more than five years. 

“It’s not just about the profit, but it is about the people we care for,” Bensema said. “How about we figure out why patients are leaving us instead of just shutting the doors. This is not the answer.”

The state board’s nine members ultimately must approve the closure, but three board seats currently are vacant.

A date on when the board will ultimately take a vote on the closure hasn’t been announced.

Manny Ramos is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.

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