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With no state help forthcoming, 4 South Side hospitals call off merger, predict service cuts

Advocate Trinity Hospital, Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, South Shore Hospital and St. Bernard Hospital had announced the $1.1 billion merger in January.

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

Four money-losing hospitals serving a largely poor patient population on Chicago’s South Side called off their proposed merger Tuesday, saying that the transaction can’t go forward without funding from the Illinois General Assembly, which recently wrapped up a shortened session without committing the money.

Advocate Trinity Hospital, Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, South Shore Hospital and St. Bernard Hospital also predicted that health care services for residents will likely be cut. In January, executives at the four institutions announced that they would join together and replace “outmoded, aging facilities” with a new “state of the art” hospital, expand services and add community health centers, estimating a total cost of $1.1 billion.

The planned union of the four hospitals would expand health care options in African American neighborhoods on the South Side and avoid closures among the four institutions, which collectively lost $76 million last year, the proponents said. The hospitals were seeking $520 million in state funding over the next five years to offset additional losses as they set up the new health care system.

Without the legislation, “we have determined that we see no path forward for our project that would transform health care on the South Side and help address disparities in health for the patients we serve,” hospital executives said in a letter to Theresa Eagleson, director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

“The recent COVID-19 outbreak should make clear to all why this legislative development is so misguided,” the letter added. “This pandemic has disproportionately affected our city’s African Americans.”

The hospitals said they’ve been “working tirelessly in collaboration” with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration to accomplish the merger.

“We have grave concerns about this development and we believe this action will force hospital closures, cause further service cuts and push access to care even further out of reach for the families we serve,” the letter said.

The hospital executives — Tim Caveny of South Shore, Charles Holland of St. Bernard, Rashard Johnson of Advocate Trinity and Carol Schneider of Mercy — said they reached out to more than 700 residents and community leaders in South Shore, Englewood, South Chicago, Chatham, Calumet Heights, Bronzeville, Chinatown, Auburn Gresham and Washington Heights to engage them on the proposal.

“It has been an intensive and exhilarating process, grounded in one succinct belief: the status quo is not working for South Side residents, who deserve an integrated health care delivery system,” the executives said.

A spokeswoman for the hospitals said the executives would not comment beyond the contents of the letter to the Pritzker administration.

“Working individually, our hospitals will not be able to provide sustained, quality care on the South Side, given the difficult economic circumstances we’re managing,” Holland told the Sun-Times in January.

Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.