The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board said in mid-December that Mercy Hospital, a staple South Side medical provider, should remain open despite earlier proposals to close.
The Board voted 6–0 against closing the hospital on December 15, primarily due to concern that the surrounding community would have significantly less access to medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic without the hospital. Mercy, which currently has 412 beds, is a safety-net hospital, serving individuals without health insurance.
Activists and health advocates have said for months that the closure would worsen the South Side’s already poor health care access, which disproportionately affects the community’s predominantly Black population.
“I do not believe that Mercy has made a reasonable case that [withdrawing its] services will not have an extremely negative impact on the South Side of Chicago,” said Linda Rae Murray, a health expert and member of the Board. “As a public-health person, I am really distressed that this is going on in the midst of a global pandemic.”
Trinity Health, which owns Mercy, announced the closure on July 29, outlining a plan to replace Mercy’s services with a series of outpatient centers focused primarily on diagnostics and preventative care. The outpatient centers, however, were not expected to meet the community’s needs.
Hospital officials haven’t given up on that set of changes, despite the Board’s vote.
“We remain committed to our transformation plans,” Mercy spokesperson Sophie McCarthy said in a statement. “We will look forward to going before the Board again in early 2021 with our plans to discontinue inpatient services at Mercy Hospital and transition to an outpatient model to serve residents on the South Side of Chicago.”
On December 17, Illinois State Representative Lamont Robinson told Chicago Tonight that Mercy was being assessed by a potential buyer that would replace Trinity and potentially keep the hospital open. He did not name the interested party.
“We do have an entity, a hospital that is interested and [that] will continue to keep quality health care on the South Side,” Robinson said.
Trinity has attempted to sell Mercy before. Between 2016 and 2020, Trinity met with over 20 prospective buyers. In the end, none were interested.
Mercy officials said they plan to go before the board again in early 2021 with a plan to discontinue inpatient services. If unsuccessful, the hospital may go to court or ignore the Board’s decision entirely. The penalty for closing without the Board’s approval is an initial $10,000 fee, plus an additional $10,000 for every 30 days that the hospital remains closed.