Mercy Hospital saved from closing by State Health Board

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By Keaundrey Clark

Mercy Hospital, an institution whose doors have been open since 1852, needed community support, and after weeks and months of protest, the State Health Facilities and Services Review Board met about the fate of the hospital on December 15.

After a 6-0 vote, it was determined that Mercy Hospital wouldn’t be closing as surging COVID-19 cases spread across the country. “I think the fact that it was a 6-0 vote,” said registered nurse and Chicago Teachers Union Member Dennis Kosuth. “It means public pressure, public attention made politicians, local leaders stand up and take notice of the issues and lack of resources in Black and brown communities in Chicago.”

While this is just a small victory for the community, Kosuth knows this will be a never-ending battle. “There’s so much work to be done,” said Kosuth. “Mercy needs oversight and to provide resources, we live in the third largest city in the U.S. There’s money, funding for health care in underserved communities, and the fight will never be done.”

As Pastor Floyd James stood in front of reporters, he said, “There’s a moral obligation to save this hospital.” As COVID sweeps through Illinois and the U.S., local community leaders have done everything in their power to have their voices heard this week, as it was ‘Mercy Week’ in efforts to galvanize residents to urge their elected officials to save the hospital.

“It is not a handout to ask elected officials to do what they are paid to do,” said Community Organizer Jitu Brown. As he started speaking in front of reporters, a crowd of about 50 people stood behind him with signs in support of keeping Mercy Hospital open.

Mercy Hospital is located in the heart of Bronzeville, and its potential closure during the pandemic would have left thousands of residents, people of color, the elderly and some suffering from income inequality to endure the most damaging effects as COVID rages on in the United States. It has been owned by Trinity Health since 2012, the company having invested millions into the health care needs of thousands of patients a year. An attempt at a proposed “South Side Coalition,” in which Mercy Hospital would have merged with St. Bernard, Advocate Trinity and Southshore Medical Center, was not funded by the Illinois Legislature last spring.

“There is hospital transformation money, in the form of $150 million, that can be used for the acquisition of Mercy,” said State Representative Lamont Robinson, whose district includes Mercy. “There’s also capital money, there’s money out there to save Mercy Hospital.”

In a July memo, Mercy CEO Carol L. Schneider had announced that the closure would be taking place, saying, “Losses, inpatient volumes and high costs of maintenance are key factors in the closure.” For many of those who happen to be people of color, they know all too well, especially on Chicago’s South Side which has endured a recent history of schools and hospital closings, the rhetoric around those closings is always about funding, budgets and how difficult it is to do this. “We have made the difficult decision to close the hospital sometime in 2021,” said Schneider in her July memo.

That closure would have affected many families as they have difficult decisions upon them as COVID surges. Thousands of workers would lose their jobs as unemployment rates in Chicago have hit 8.6 percent. With the national unemployment rate sitting at 6.7 percent, mainly women and people of color will be affected at a disproportionate rate, and the Mercy Hospital closure could have a damaging effect in the next several months. Those factors will now be felt by the over 50,000 patients who visited last year. As Cook County COVID cases top 338,000 for the year, with a daily average of over 2,500 cases a day, it will force many to have to resort to alternative means when it comes to their health. “They say health care will not be disturbed because you can catch an Uber to your nearest hospital,” said Brown

Dr. Ezekiel Richardson, an ER resident at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, joined a rally in front of Mercy Hospital, and he talked about the importance of Black resources and health. “When we say Black Lives Matter, that means prioritize those Black lives,” said Richardson. “Keep the resources that allow them to stay safe open.”

A potential closing of Mercy Hospital would have been another in a wave of hospital closures in communities where Black people are the majority.

Mercy would be the fourth hospital on the South or West sides to close since 2018. “We have to get the general assembly on board, we have to be able to get our governor on board,” said Richardson. “I know the governor stands with us, and we need more than a letter to keep this hospital open, we need him to get involved with this closure.”

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