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Opinion: Mercy Hospital, keeping hope alive

After 150 years of service, Mercy hospital officials said it will shut down between February and May of 2022 because the hospital has faced “financial turmoil for decades as the population in the area has declined, hospital reimbursements have decreased and capital needs have increased exponentially,” officials said, as reported by Chicago CBS Local.

Mercy has monthly operating losses of $4 million.

Despite this harsh reality, Mercy’s health officials and parent company, Trinity Health, should have done something sooner to prevent the facility from closing.

Mercy sees more than 50,000 patients a year and over 80% of the population it serves is economically challenged and uninsured. It serves 62% of Chicago’s Black population and 37% of the Hispanic population, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Completely closing Mercy would displace those people from their nearby health facility and force them to go to different hospitals that are farther away. The next closest hospital is Provident Hospital of Cook County, which is three miles away. Mercy’s closure could create a healthcare desert, an area without a hospital.

In May, hospitals including Mercy, Advocate Trinity in Calumet Heights, South Shore in South Chicago and St. Bernard in Englewood asked lawmakers for $520 million over the next five years to form a merger. The plan included the construction of a new hospital and a network of community health centers. One of the hospitals may have been closed under the plan.

Lawmakers did not grant the funds for the project because they did not feel the hospital leaders included enough details about the plans.

That decision put Mercy Hospital in a tough position. The Chicago Tribune reported the hospitals St. Bernard, Advocate Trinity and South Shore are not closing.

Mercy is Chicago’s oldest hospital. It was created in 1852 and survived the Chicago Fire of 1871. Victims of the fire were treated at the hospital.

President Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the hospital in 1912 after being shot while giving a speech in Milwaukee. Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley was born there and thousands of doctors have trained at the hospital. Mercy could’ve used their achievements and historical context as a marketing tool to get more patients.

However, in recent years, the hospital has had to shift away from overnight care because more procedures are done without a hospital stay, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

The communities that Mercy serves “need more early detection of diagnosis of illnesses and diseases, better care coordination among a multitude of providers to better treat chronic diseases and more cost-effective and accessible urgent care and other outpatient services,” hospital officials said in an email to Chicago CBS Local News.

The hospital services have changed and that’s why it is hemorrhaging money. But it does have a wealthy parent company, Trinity Health. Trinity acquired Mercy in 2012

Trinity Health has 92 hospitals and had $9.7 billion in operating revenue for the last six months of 2019, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. Trinity has already spent more than $124 million on infrastructure improvements for Mercy and more than $112 million on short-term operational needs.

But what about plans for long-term needs? Trinity has had eight years to transform Mercy into a more attractive destination for health care. It decided to spend money on its aesthetics and not effective methods to get the hospital back to prominence.

A move toward making Mercy more of an outpatient care facility sooner—could’ve kept Mercy from being at risk of closing. Mercy is working on plans to develop an Outpatient Care Center that offers diagnostics, care coordination and urgent care, as reported by ABC7 Chicago. It will be able to serve 50,000 patients and offer preventative care.

Trinity could have also helped financially with the merger by contributing to the $520 million to do the project. That could have softened the financial burden on lawmakers.

They could have helped Mercy, St. Bernard, Advocate Trinity and South Shore prepare their proposal better for lawmakers. Lawmakers turned down funding because the four hospitals did not have enough details about the plan. Trinity Health, owner of 92 hospitals, should know how to make a strong proposal for funding.

Trinity’s apparent inaction and ineffective spending look neglectful and uniformed. In order to save Mercy, it had to put money toward helping it change with the needs of the times and the surrounding community sooner.

Trinity has enough money to help change the course of the hospital before it officially closes next year. Hopefully, the new outpatient center does well.

This should be a lesson to Trinity and Mercy to pay attention to the times and needs of its communities and to act sooner to prevent healthcare inaccessibility.

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