A 314-bed hospital in south suburban Blue Island will stop serving patients at the end of the year if it can’t find a buyer, citing decreased patient volumes and market challenges, hospital officials said Tuesday.
MetroSouth Medical Center filed an application with the Illinois Health Facilities and Service Review Board to stop hospital operations as it looks for a new operator to serve the roughly 23,000-resident community.
Blue Island Mayor Domingo Vargas said he was shocked by the announcement, despite knowing the financial challenges the hospital has been facing for several years.
“This means that we have to look for alternatives,” Vargas said. “I’ve already called out [to] Washington D.C., to the county leaders … as to what can be done.”
In a news release, MetroSouth said it has reached out to 40 different health care organizations in the past two years, including Chicago-area providers and out-of-state health systems, looking for a buyer for MetroSouth. It said it had no takers.
“Closing the hospital is an immensely difficult and emotional decision, but the data is clear that patient needs have changed — here and across the country,” CEO John Walsh said in the news release. “Enormous half-empty hospitals are not what the future of health care looks like.”
MetroSouth said it’s seen increased market saturation, reduced reimbursement from government and commercial payers, operational losses, and decreased patient volumes. For instance, the hospital said it serves fewer than 100 patients a day on average, despite its 314-bed capacity. The hospital said its pre-tax losses in 2018 totaled $8.4 million and are projected to exceed $10 million this year.
Officials said they’re looking for a buyer to turn the site into a freestanding emergency room, or outpatient center to continue serving the community.
“We are diligently pursuing such an opportunity, but we know the facility will not be able to operate into 2020 as a full-service community hospital,” Walsh said in the statement.
Mayor Vargas said he’s trying to organize a summit with local, state and national officials to figure out an alternative to ceasing operations and to avoid a gap in coverage. He said the hospital serves residents from all over the area, including Midlothian, Robbins, Riverdale, and Dolton.
The MetroSouth site has been home to a hospital in the Blue Island community since 1905, when it was founded as St. Francis Hospital.
In its announcement, MetroSouth pointed to several other hospitals in the area that are anywhere from 3.5 to 10 miles away, and said it’ll work to refer patients, particularly expectant mothers, to ensure continued coverage.
Illinois lawmakers recently approved $200 million to help hospitals convert their facilities or close them. One reason hospitals are emptying is because patients can find doctors somewhere cheaper, such as urgent care centers or clinics.
Mariah Woelfel is a producer at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @MariahWoelfel.