MetroSouth Hospital will stay open — for now

A state board voted to defer action after a lawsuit seeking to stop the closing was filed Monday.

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MetroSouth Medical Center in south suburban Blue Island has been purchased by Lockwood Development Partners

MetroSouth Medical Center in south suburban Blue Island will stay open past its proposed Sept. 30 closing date.

Sun-Times file

A south suburban hospital will stay open longer than its owners had wanted after they failed to win approval from a state board on Tuesday.

MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island had already told employees the facility would shut down Sept. 30, but it still needed approval from the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board.

Then Monday, People’s Choice Hospital, a hospital management company and potential buyer, sued Quorum Health — parent company of MetroSouth — claiming Quorum engaged in bad-faith negotiation tactics before abruptly ending sale talks in August.

That lawsuit was cited Tuesday during the review board’s monthly meeting at the Bolingbrook Golf Club, and a motion to defer the vote was approved 5-1 after a half hour of discussion.

The nine-member board was short three members; one was absent, and two seats remain vacant.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 22 — weeks after MetroSouth’s desired closing date. Quorum executives are disappointed with the delay examining their options.

“The hospital continues to experience staffing shortages and mounting, unsustainable financial losses,” said Quorum spokeswoman Amanda Anderson. “Ultimately, we seek to avoid any situation in which we are not able to provide safe patient care.”

The delay wasn’t the only surprise Tuesday. Blue Island Mayor Domingo Vargas, who had fought to keep MetroSouth open, switched sides, asking the board to approve it. He said “multiple discussions” with Quorum led to a deal he called the best option.

Quorum would allow Blue Island to “preserve” the hospital’s license by suspending it and continue to seek a buyer. If none were found – it isn’t clear how long they would look – Quroum would transfer the property to the city. It was also unclear if the city would pay for the property.

But that agreement hinged on board approval, he said, and “unfortunately, due to the vote to defer today, our agreement with the city to transfer the hospital and help them identify a new operator has been jeopardized,” Anderson said.

One patient who also spoke to the board Tuesday said it is her life in jeopardy. Sharron Boyd said the hospital is the only thing keeping her alive.

“Over a seven month period I was admitted to the hospital 13 times; 12 of those times, I died,” Boyd said. “If I had traveled to [Advocate] South Suburban Hospital, I would be dead.”

The 67-year-old said doctors at MetroSouth resuscitated her each time and eventually she underwent double bypass surgery.

“I need this hospital, the people in my community need this hospital. I am selfish, I don’t want to die,” she said.

Tuesday’s vote was a huge victory for attorney Ari Scharg, who just joined the fight to keep MetroSouth open. He faced a similar situation while representing the village of Melrose Park as it fought to keep Westlake Hospital open.

Melrose Park also sued to force the board to defer its vote on Westlake in April, but regulators approved the closure anyway. The unanimous approval sparked several court appeals and even forced Gov. J.B. Pritzker to oust two newly appointed board members days later.

“I commend the board for doing the right thing and voting to defer,” Scharg said. “Illinois residents, myself included, should be proud that they asked the right questions and stood up to corporate greed.”

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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