The middle of a pandemic is no time to close Mercy Hospital on Chicago’s South Side

Even before plans to close Mercy became known, we were living in a health care desert — and a place of economic distress.

SHARE The middle of a pandemic is no time to close Mercy Hospital on Chicago’s South Side

A final decision to close Mercy Hospital could come as early as Dec. 15.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The new year is fast approaching, and unfortunately 2021 promises to bring the closing of 168-year-old Mercy Hospital & Medical Center on the South Side of Chicago unless people of good will step up.

A final decision could come as early as Dec. 15, when the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board meets to consider the request by Trinity Health, the hospital conglomerate that owns Mercy, to close the essential safety net hospital next year.

Sadly, Trinity Health is not hearing our demands that Mercy be kept open. If Trinity no longer wants to operate Mercy, there are people who do, but the state board needs to give the potential buyers the opportunity to put together their plans.

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Leaders who might be able to persuade Trinity to keep Mercy open, or sell it to someone who will keep it open, need to step up and act now before it’s too late.

What a time to pick to close a full-service safety net hospital that serves the poorest of the poor!

Sadly, even before COVID-19 struck and even before the potential that Mercy would close became known, we were living in a health care desert on the South Side and also one that was in economic distress.

Yet, here we are in the nation’s worst health care crisis in a century, one that is hitting particularly hard at the Black and Brown people of Chicago, and we’re being threatened with the drying up of one of the few oases in the health care desert.

And, here we are in an economic crisis that is hitting particularly hard at the Black and Brown people of Chicago, and we’re being threatened with the closure of one of the few large, institutional employers on the South Side.

This is unacceptable, and we cannot allow the closure of Mercy Hospital to go forward.

Let me share one example of what’s at risk if Mercy closes.

In Illinois a child is almost three times more likely to die before their first birthday if you’re Black, as opposed to if you’re White, according to a new report from the March of Dimes.

In Illinois, you’re 51% higher risk, if you’re a Black woman, to deliver a pre-term birth, as compared to all other women.

And, Black women in Illinois were six times more likely to die from pregnancy-related conditions, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Mercy Hospital is the second largest provider of maternity care on the South Side. What will happen to those already horrible statistics if Mercy closes?

Earlier this year, Trinity was part of a plan to merge four Chicago hospitals including Mercy if the state would help fund the merger, yet there were insufficient details in the plan to ensure that the people in Bronzeville, where Mercy is located, will continue to have a full-service hospital.

Many state legislators told Trinity to come back to us with a detailed plan, and we will help get the needed funds. Instead of coming back to us with a specific commitment, Trinity called off the merger and announced the closing of Mercy.

We in the legislature did not fail to fund a plan to keep Mercy open; Trinity failed to provide us a comprehensive plan for us to fund.

Still, I and my colleagues in the Legislative Black Caucus stand ready to seek the funds to keep Mercy open if we are presented with a viable plan. Along with other members of the legislature and other Black elected officials, we sent a letter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker before Thanksgiving seeking his intervention, and the governor replied that he has written Trinity asking it to delay the closing and offering to work together to find a solution for Mercy to remain open.

We appreciate that Pritzker has made this effort and that he says that racism has plagued the delivery of health care in the state. We know his heart is with us.

But time is of the essence, and we believe that only his continued personal intervention can bring this about.

Gov. Pritzker, we need you to personally call Trinity Health and we need the health facilities board to act so these potential buyers can complete their purchase proposals.

Governor, we need you to ensure that state capital funding is available to help fund the purchase.

Governor, we ask you to support a moratorium on any hospital closures in Illinois until the COVID crisis passes and insure that all safety net hospitals receive adequate funding.

Governor, we need your help, and we need it now!

Lamont J. Robinson is the state representative for the 5th House District, which includes Mercy Hospital.

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