Group fighting to save Mercy Hospital wants state to step in, take it slow

Insight Chicago has entered into a nonbinding agreement to buy the historic South Side hospital.

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Local officials, community activists and Mercy Hospital and Medical Center employees attend a protest outside Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Bronzeville Thursday morning, Sept. 3, 2020.

A group fighting to stop the closure of Mercy Hospital and Medical Center say the state should temporarily step in and run the hospital.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

A group fighting to save Mercy Hospital and Medical Center said Thursday that while it’s encouraged by recent news of a potential buyer, it first wants Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office to temporarily take over the Bronzeville institution.

“We need more time to properly assess and vet whoever is going to take over Mercy,” Ald. Sophia King (4th) said during a virtual news conference Thursday. The hospital sits in King’s ward.

King and others said they have concerns about Insight Chicago, an Illinois not-for-profit affiliated with a Michigan health system that has entered into a nonbinding agreement to buy the historic South Side hospital.

“We haven’t seen any financials that would say they can run a hospital properly. We need to vet this,” King said. “We can’t just take anyone.”

Shannon Bennett, executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, echoed King’s remarks, saying it’s important that whoever takes over Mercy must keep it running as a full-service facility.

“Most importantly, we still want to have a say in the process of the sale of the hospital. We would urge our governor to lend his might and the leverage of his office to this fight,” Bennett said.

Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said Thursday that the state taking over Mercy is not a “viable solution.”

“Instead, the state would urge community representatives to engage and work with potential buyers to ensure the hospital will continue to operate in the community,” Abudayyeh said. “The state of Illinois has supported safety net hospitals throughout this pandemic and with the General Assembly’s passage of health care transformation legislation has even more tools to help providers meet the needs of the communities they serve.”

If the sale of the 258-bed medical center goes through, Insight plans to keep Mercy as a full-service facility, the hospital has said.

Mercy and Insight were expected to continue to negotiate the terms of the sale over the coming weeks.

Mercy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February, saying it was losing staff and experiencing “mounting financial losses” that challenged its ability to maintain a safe environment. The move came just two weeks after a state review board rejected Trinity Health’s proposal to open an urgent care and diagnostic center on the South Side. The same board unanimously rejected a plan in December to close Mercy.

Mercy — which was the site of a deadly shooting in November 2018 — was set to merge with three other South Side hospitals struggling financially, though that plan fell through due to a lack of state funding.

Until the pending deal with Insight is signed, Mercy’s overall plans for the hospital remain unchanged, the hospital has said. As of now, it’s expected to cease operation May 31. If the agreement is finalized before then, Mercy would help Insight in transitioning services.

This is the latest turn of events involving Mercy, the city’s first hospital, which last summer announced its controversial plan to close in 2021.

Mercy still plans to open a care center sometime this year. The clinic would offer urgent care, imaging services and care coordination, Mercy has said.

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