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Mercy Hospital on Chicagos South Side avoids closure—for now – Crains Chicago Business

Board members expressed concerns that the outpatient center Mercy plans to open in the area won’t be operational until Sept. 30, which would leave some residents without access to medical care immediately following the hospital’s closure in the midst of a pandemic.

Board member Sandra Martell, a public health administrator for the Winnebago County Health Department, is among those who voted not to approve Mercy’s application to close. She said her decision is “based on staff reports and concerns that closure would have a significant impact on the health of the community served by Mercy.”

Mercy’s plan to close between Feb. 1 and May 31—during a public health crisis—has prompted outrage from elected officials and community members. It would result in roughly 400 fewer beds on Chicago’s South Side, where people of color have long been disproportionately affected by chronic conditions and, now, COVID-19.

State Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, testified during the meeting that not only would her constituents be left without a full-service hospital if Mercy closed, but also that hospital workers would be left without jobs during a pandemic and economic recession. Mah asked the board to table their decision during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is disproportionately affecting Black, Brown, immigrant and low-income communities.

But the hospital is among those struggling to stay afloat in the face of rising expenses, declining reimbursements and competition from expanding local chains. Owned by Livonia, Mich-based Trinity Health (which also owns three-hospital Loyola Medicine), Mercy posted net income of $4 million in fiscal 2020, compared with a net loss of $36 million a year earlier.

Trinity executive John Capasso testified that Mercy only ended fiscal year 2020 in the black because of one-time government payments, and that “staggering” operating losses are expected to accelerate post-COVID.

Capasso added that a number of local hospitals have committed to employing Mercy staff following the closure.

Other attendees who testified during today’s state board meeting—including state lawmakers, local medical professionals and community members—implored the board members to deny the closure, or at least to consider postponing the vote.

Aside from Trinity representatives, St. Bernard Hospital CEO Charles Holland was the only attendee who testified in support of the closure, noting that hospital “transformation and regional planning needs to happen on the South Side of Chicago.”

St. Bernard and Mercy were among four financially struggling hospitals in the area that explored a merger intended to improve access to medical services, eliminate redundant expenses and more. But the deal fell apart in May after state legislators declined to help fund the combination, citing a lack of specifics around where any new facilities would be located and which existing facilities might close.

Meanwhile, Trinity recently applied with the state to open Mercy Care Center, a $13 million outpatient clinic that would be located less than 2 miles from the hospital. The center would offer urgent care, diagnostic testing and care coordination to connect patients with the right providers and services. The state health board is tentatively scheduled to vote on the outpatient project at its Jan. 26 meeting.

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