4 Chicago hospitals announce tentative $1.1-billion merger plan

Four financially challenged hospitals on Chicago’s South Side on Thursday announced tentative plans to merge into a single health care system to serve some of the city’s poorest communities.

The $1.1 billion plan announced by South Shore Hospital, Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, Advocate Trinity Hospital and St. Bernard Hospital calls for the construction of one new hospital and a network of community health centers. The plan must be presented at meetings beginning next month in communities served by the hospitals.

St. Bernard Hospital CEO Charles Holland says working individually, the hospitals won’t be able to provide sustained, quality care in some of Chicago’s most impoverished communities. Residents of Englewood, the economically challenged neighborhood served by St. Bernard Hospital, have an average life expectancy of about 60 years according to an analysis last year by the New York University School of Medicine. Nine miles away in the prosperous Streeterville neighborhood, the average life expectancy is 90 years.

“By forging a system that can better respond to and manage the chronic illnesses so pervasive in our communities, we can truly achieve greater health equity and narrow significant disparities in access to quality are and resulting outcomes,’’ Holland told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The hospitals put the plan together with the aid of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which oversees the state’s Medicaid program. It calls for one new hospital, with up to six diagnostic, ambulatory care centers of 30,000- to 50,000-square feet to be built over several years. The community health centers would include outpatient surgeries, testing, mental health, urgent care and primary care services.

Advocate Trinity Hospital President Rashard Johnson said hospital executives are committed to keeping their current facilities open until a new facility is built, "and that could be a community health center.”

Jawanza Malone of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, which operates in a neighborhood near Mercy Hospital, said it’s "deeply alarming” to hear of potential hospital closings. However, he also said it’s encouraging to hear the hospitals are trying to figure out a way to continue to provide quality health care.

"I just hope that they actually listen to what the community has to say and incorporate that into their decision making,” he said.

The four hospitals lost money in 2018 and inpatient numbers decreased along with reimbursement by the government for Medicaid patients and the uninsured.