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Mercy Hospital closure proposal rejected by state board

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board voted 6-0 after about four hours of testimony Tuesday.

Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, 2525 S. Michigan Ave. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A state board on Tuesday unanimously rejected a plan to close Mercy Hospital in the Bronzeville neighborhood.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board voted 6-0 after about four hours of testimony from dozens of community members, activists, doctors and nurses — all of whom called for the board to reject Trinity Health’s request.

Trinity Health said it was disappointed by the board’s vote.

“We will look forward to going before the board again in early 2021 with our plans to discontinue inpatient services at Mercy Hospital and transition to an outpatient model to serve residents on the South Side of Chicago,” Trinity Health said in a statement.

Dr. Linda Murray, a state board member, said, “I do not believe Mercy has made a reasonable case that their services will not have an extremely negative impact on the South Side of Chicago. … As a public health person, I am really distressed that this is going on in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Betty Chang, a first-year medical student, accused Trinity Health of “pulling the rug out from under” the feet of the African American and Latino people that Mercy mostly serves.

“Please, please, please reconsider the closure of Mercy. These communities need your help, and they deserve to survive,” Chang said.

Christina Govas, another medical student, said a decision by the board to close the hospital means “you will have indirectly signed death certificates for patients needing immediate attention.”

“It means you have robbed them of a chance to recover, to wake up, to breathe …,” Govas said.

Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn was among those blasting Trinity for closing during a pandemic, calling it “preposterous.”

“This is corporate medicine at its worst,” Quinn said.

“Today community members, unions and elected officials all came together in unity to advocate against the closure of Mercy Hospital, and I am ecstatic that the Health Facilities and Services Review Board voted in our favor,” said state Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago.

“They made a unanimous decision that was in the best interest of the residents the hospital serves, which is more than I can say about Trinity Health. I will continue to advocate that Trinity relinquish their ownership of Mercy so that we can find organizations who put the wellness of their citizens over the almighty dollar.”

Several speakers claimed there are ready and willing buyers for the hospital campus.

John Capasso, a Trinity Health executive vice president, said the company hired a broker in 2018 to solicit requests for proposals from multiple Chicago-area hospitals.

“We did go through an exhaustive process, but there was no interest at all,” he said.

Capasso said other groups had been in contact with Trinity Health but either didn’t have the funding or expertise to run a hospital.

In late July, Mercy announced it would close sometime between Feb. 1 and May 31, 2021.

Trinity Health said it plans to set up an outpatient facility about two miles from Mercy Hospital that will focus on diagnostic testing and preventive medicine.

Capasso pitched the Mercy outpatient center as the only viable way forward for a hospital that is losing money and losing outpatient clients to bigger institutions in the city.

“Failure to acknowledge the realities of today will mean that the residents of the South Side of Chicago will continue to suffer gross health care inequities,” he said.

He also said Trinity Health has proposed a “sliding timeline” to allow Mercy to close in a “safe and organized manner” and one that accounts for the pandemic.