Mercy Hospital on Chicago’s Near South Side likely will sell its building and real estate as it’s set to close next year – and shutting down won’t hurt patients, the hospital said in a new regulatory filing.
Mercy disclosed the potential sale to Illinois health care regulators. The hospital must file paperwork telling the state it plans to close, but by law regulators can’t stop the closure.
Public health advocates say the South Side is a health care desert, making it difficult for people to access medical care. Mercy is a historic hospital that mainly treats low-income people of color. It looms alongside Interstate 55 just blocks from the South Loop, where development has mushroomed around the McCormick Place Convention Center.
Mercy announced plans to close in late July after a failed bid to merge with three other hospitals on the South Side, and after years of losing money and patients. It has a busy emergency room, and is one of the few hospitals that delivers babies in the area.
Despite pleas from community organizers, various local lawmakers and patients who are worried about where they’ll go once Mercy closes, hospital officials told regulators in the new filing that there is plenty of space inside other hospitals. Mercy is working with other hospitals in the area to transition patients elsewhere.
“The discontinuation of the hospital will not have an adverse impact upon access to care for residents of the hospital’s market area,” Mercy wrote in the filing.
There are more than two dozen other hospitals in this area, which state regulators define as being within 10 miles of Mercy. And these hospitals accept Medicaid health insurance for people who are low-income or disabled, the hospital told regulators. Communities on the South Side have some of the most residents in Illinois on Medicaid, state records show. But it can be hard for patients to find doctors and hospitals willing to take the insurance.
In its filing, Mercy said the hospital’s closure would buoy other struggling hospitals by sending patients their way to fill their beds.
But Mercy’s argument is based on details of how empty hospitals were before COVID-19 struck, filling hospitals with sick patients. It hearkens back to a trend before the pandemic that was happening across the country.
Hospitals were filled with vacant beds as insurers steered patients to cheaper, outpatient facilities like doctors’ offices, and there was a movement to focus on preventative care to keep patients away from expensive hospital stays.
Mercy plans to close between February and May. Both the hospital and its outpatient clinics would close. Mercy told regulators it plans to build a new outpatient facility that could treat more than 50,000 patients a year. The idea is to focus on preventative care.
Neighborhoods surrounding Mercy have higher death rates for infants, as well as heart disease and cancer for the general population, than in other parts of Chicago, according to the hospital.
Kristen Schorsch covers public health on WBEZ’s politics and government desk. Follow her on Twitter @kschorsch.