Give Us Chance to Vet Mercy Hospital Buyer, Groups Say

Illinois refused to let bankrupt Mercy Hospital close; now the state is facing demands from the Chicago community for a voice in who will keep it open.

Staffers, community members, patients and three former or current mayors from Flint, Michigan, defended a $1 offer from their hometown facility Insight Health Corp. at a public hearing Friday held by the Illinois Health Facilities & Services Review Board. At the same time, a coalition of local healthcare providers made a rival offer to buy Chicago’s oldest facility caring for the sickest patients.

At issue is Mercy Hospital, the facility in Chicago’s South Side with about 250 beds that’s on the precipice of closing forever. At stake is health care for a community burdened with high levels of chronic conditions, the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic and relatively little wealth or insurance to cover the costs.

“We have presented our intentions to acquire Mercy Hospital to the elected officials and now to the community and this board,” said Adele Cobbs, an emergency physician at Mercy who said she is part of a group of black physicians and other providers who practice and live in the community. “We are intimately aware of our community and how it has suffered.”

Bankrupt Hospital

Mercy went bankrupt last month with a plan to shut by May 31 after the state rejected its request to close. Insight, a Michigan-based biomedical company, says it plans to operate Mercy as a full-service facility that takes advantage of the company’s expertise in neurosurgery and orthopedics.

A coalition of labor and community groups said at the meeting that the sale was too precipitous and that it should have the opportunity to vet all potential buyers. Speakers also emphasized that any buyer needed to operate a full-service hospital including comprehensive emergency care.

Anne Igoe, vice president for hospitals at labor union SEIU Healthcare Illinois, said her group wants to ensure that the hospital operates a full-service emergency room and include community members as full voting board members. “We will not stand by as a change of ownership is pushed through without an opportunity to fully vet that potential owner,” she said.

Read more: Trinity Health to Sell Chicago’s Mercy Hospital to Insight

Insight’s Chief Executive Office Jawad Shah was lauded for the group’s community involvement and investments in its hometown of Flint.

“I cannot say enough about what they’ve done for this community,” said Karen Weaver, who was Flint’s mayor during the drinking-water crisis and recounted Insight doing lead testing and treating skin conditions caused by the city’s tainted taps. “They have put us on the map for so much more than the negative things that we have been known for.”

Shah said at the hearing that Insight had a “proven track record of success” and had helped turning around several hospitals in Michigan. “When everyone else was leaving the town, we decided to go in the opposite direction and move into the city,” Shah said.

Longer Waits

A nurse at Mercy, Anne Wantanabe, detailed the risks as Trinity has wound down the hospital. Mercy has been downgraded from a comprehensive to a basic emergency room and can’t accept city ambulances. So patients are routed farther and to places with longer waits and often lacking services such as in-patient psychiatric care “as the health-care services on the South Side continue to be stretched beyond their capacity,” she said.

Some speakers said Insight’s success might not translate over to the much larger and complex Mercy. According to Alderman Sophia King, “it would be irresponsible for us to allow Insight to proceed without more due diligence.”

The case is Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, 21-01805, U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Northern District of Illinois (Eastern Division). To view the docket on Bloomberg Law, click here.

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