The story of Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center on the Northwest Side illustrates how difficult it is to close even an aging, half-empty hospital.
In 2013, Presence Health, which at the time was a 12-hospital chain, was considering shuttering the 60-year-old building in Portage Park after years of what hospital officials say were unsustainable losses. In 2012, the 269-bed hospital had a $12.5 million operating loss, followed by a $9.8 million loss in 2013.
But its 900 employees, led by then-incoming medical staff President Dr. Vishnu Chundi, rallied local churches and community groups to lobby the governor and City Hall. The hospital is the biggest employer in an area where the average business has about 20 employees, says George Borovik, executive director of the Portage Park Chamber of Commerce.
“You can't let cornerstone institutions for that neighborhood close,” Chundi says. Chicago residents expect a base level of healthcare, he says, which to him means being no more than a 15-minute drive from a hospital if you're having a heart attack or stroke.
Sandra Bruce, CEO of Presence Health, says the company considered reducing Our Lady to an outpatient center. “But the community said, 'We're not ready,' “ she says. “ 'We need the jobs. We need the restaurants. People stop and buy gas.' There's this huge economic underpinning that has to be addressed in this transformation of American healthcare.”
In December, Presence sold the hospital, now known as Community First Medical Center, to a for-profit company that plans to invest $20 million over five years on upgrades and new services.
Similar issues of economics and access play out downstate, where hospitals often remain open despite high vacancy rates because there might not be another for miles.
Dr. John Warner Hospital in Clinton has the lowest occupancy rate in the state. It had $15.4 million in total operating revenue and $730,600 in operating income for its last fiscal year after two years of losses.
The city-owned facility remains open partly because many elderly people live in the area and a power plant is close by, whose employees could need emergency care, Mayor Carolyn Peters says. “It's a community service,” she says. It also has 114 full-time workers, making it one of the biggest employers in town.
John Warner is a so-called critical-access hospital, a federal designation that means it can't have more than 25 beds and must be at least 15 miles from another hospital. In return, Medicare helps cover its costs.
Only nine hospitals have closed in Illinois in the past decade. One, Oak Forest Hospital, became an immediate-care center in 2011. Another, Sacred Heart Hospital on the West Side, shut down in 2013 amid a federal investigation into Medicare fraud. Nationwide, closings are just as rare. Seventeen hospitals were shuttered in 2012, with five converted to outpatient facilities, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, a nonpartisan group that advises Congress.
“Hospitals are . . . responding to the lack of demand,” says Dean Montgomery, director of the American Health Planning Association, a nonprofit based in Falls Church, Va. “But here's the catch. The problem is the inpatient use rate has dropped faster than the number of beds has decreased.”