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Activists call for Mercy Hospital to be saved from closing

The hospital is scheduled to close in 2021.

Anuddep Dasaraju an M.D. at UIC speaks to reporters with around 2 dozen activists, and medical professionals who rallied outside the Thompson Center, demanding that Mercy Hospital not be closed, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. | Tyler LaRviere/Sun-Times
“In the middle of a pandemic, Trinity Health wants to close Mercy Hospital,” said Dr. Anudeep Dasaraju, 29, a resident physician with the University of Illinois at Chicago who works in Mercy’s emergency room.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Protesters on Monday blocked a street outside the Thompson Center and called for city and state officials to block the planned closure of Mercy Hospital, which, they say, would result in deaths in the Black community that it serves.

“We’re asking that the governor as well as the mayor do what needs to be done to make absolutely sure that this hospital stays open to service the Black community,” Robert Jones, pastor of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, said during the protest.

Mercy, the city’s first hospital, announced last summer its plans to close in 2021. Mercy was set to merge with three other South Side hospitals, but that plan fell through due to a lack of state funding.

The hospital — which is owned by Trinity Health and was the site of a deadly mass shooting in November 2018 — is located in Bronzeville at 2525 S. Michigan Ave. and serves predominantly Black patients.

“In the middle of a pandemic, Trinity Health wants to close Mercy Hospital,” said Dr. Anudeep Dasaraju, 29, a resident physician with the University of Illinois at Chicago who works in Mercy’s emergency room.

“Understand what that means. Understand that if you close a hospital, people will die. They are signing off on the deaths of the community if they close this hospital,” he said.

Dasaraju said doctors at Mercy were restricted from speaking out on the issue and he was doing so on their behalf because he was not prohibited due to his status as a resident.

Shannon Bennett, executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, said different demonstrations in the area were planned for the entire week and called for elected officials to step in to help vulnerable patients.

“What are you going to do?” he said of the politicians.

A spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday in an email: “The Governor has communicated to Trinity President and CEO Michael Slubowski the state’s position that the hospital urgently rethink the decision to close Mercy Hospital; the state stands ready and willing to work with them to avoid closure.”

In an email, a spokeswoman for Mayor Lori Lightfoot said: “Although the City did not have a role in this decision or the operations, regulation or planning associated with hospitals and other healthcare providers in Chicago, we recognize the important role our safety net hospitals play in our healthcare system. Our city’s safety net hospitals are a critical source of medical care for low-income, uninsured, and underinsured populations while also serving as trusted community assets and sources of employment.”

Dr. Ezekiel Richardson, an emergency room resident at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, was one of the about 15 doctors in the crowd of about 50 demonstrators.

“In the midst of the year 2020 the refrain ‘I can’t breathe’ has echoed through multiple movements,” Richardson said.

“I know that nursing staff across the city are burdened with those words as patients succumb to COVID-19, and now in the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of numbers we didn’t even see in the summer, when the nation was shut down, we’re closing down a hospital, a resource that can keep them breathing,” he said.

The Illinois Health Facilities Services and Review Board meeting on the closing is scheduled for Dec. 15.

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