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Franciscan St. James asks state to close Chicago Heights hospital

Franciscan St. James Health has officially asked state regulators to close its aging hospital in Chicago Heights, a controversial move that has drawn the ire of community members who fear losing a longtime neighborhood staple.

Franciscan CEO Arnie Kimmel plans to move inpatient care to the Olympia Fields campus about 5 miles away and expand that facility. Franciscan also plans to expand its outpatient center in Chicago Heights, less than 2 miles from the hospital in that community.

Given how close those locations are to each other, Franciscan said in its recent application to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board that “accessibility issues will be greatly diminished, and in many cases eliminated altogether.” The board, which regulates health care projects statewide to prevent duplication of services, is scheduled to cast an initial vote on the proposal in March.

Kimmel's plans aren't popular. In fact, Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez formed a task force with south suburban public officials and nonprofits to discuss the potential impacts of losing the Chicago Heights hospital. Gonzalez couldn't immediately be reached for comment today, but in a previous interview, he said he was concerned about having a hospital in an area where he's trying to create more jobs.

But with fewer patients being hospitalized in general, due to advances in medicine and insurers paying doctors to focus on preventive care, Kimmel has said he needs to offer services that match what patients will need in the coming years. That's more outpatient care.

"I think people are naturally concerned with what they perceive as the loss of a hospital," Kimmel said in an interview today.

At a recent public hearing, the health system tried to make the point that with patients not using the hospital as much, in addition to the Chicago Heights and Olympia Fields hospitals being close to each other, that it makes sense to consolidate them, Kimmel said.

The move will improve Franciscan St. James' bottom line by about $20 million a year through savings and being more efficient, he said.

Franciscan St. James, a two-hospital system that is part of Mishawaka, Ind.-based Franciscan Alliance, plans to close the Chicago Heights hospital once the Olympia Fields campus is renovated. That's slated to be finished in October 2018.

The fate of the Chicago Heights campus is unclear. Franciscan St. James will look at repurposing the building, but given its age, portions of it will be demolished, the application said. The hospital dates to 1911. It's authorized by the state to use 312 patient beds, but actually uses far fewer, like many hospitals in the Chicago area.

"Franciscan St. James asks state to close Chicago Heights hospital" originally appeared on the Crain's Chicago Business website.


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