Advocate Trinity Hospital on the Southeast Side plans to resume delivering babies on August 17, nearly five months after putting those services on hold during the pandemic.
“In my office alone, I have lots of patients every time they come for a visit asking, ‘When is Trinity opening? When is Trinity opening?’ ” said Dr. Dakisha Lewis, who runs the hospital’s obstetrics and gynecology department. “My mom delivered me there or I live down the street.”
Trinity has referred women to deliver at Advocate’s hospitals in the south suburbs, at least a 30-minute drive away, creating some convenience and transportation issues, Lewis said.
But putting delivering services on hold at Trinity was part of giant Advocate Aurora Health system’s broader strategy when COVID-19 hit hard in March.
Hospitals across Illinois were bracing for a potential deluge of sick patients. Trinity is one of more than two dozen Advocate Aurora hospitals that straddle Illinois and Wisconsin. Trinity’s infant specialists were needed elsewhere. And like other hospitals making room for COVID-19 patients, Trinity turned its newborn intensive care unit into an available space for a possible surge in patients with the new coronavirus.
Still, having women deliver elsewhere was a blow to patients who already live in a health care care desert. Trinity is one of the few hospitals left on the South Side where women can labor. Lewis and her colleagues have watched the service dwindle.
“We were counting on our hands, ‘Oh, this hospital closed their OB. This hospital’s closed completely. This hospital’s potentially thinking of closing their OB services,’ ” Lewis said. “We were talking about Mercy.”
Mercy Hospital in Bronzeville is just under a 20-minute drive north from Trinity in Calumet Heights. Late last month, Mercy announced plans to close its hospital and outpatient clinics between February and May next year. Mercy said it had been losing money and patients who needed to be hospitalized for years. Instead, it plans to open a new outpatient center that could treat more than 50,000 patients a year in an area that needs preventative and urgent care more than expensive hospital care, Mercy said.
Come next year, Trinity might get even busier, not just with typical Mercy patients, but with mothers-to-be. Mercy trails just the University of Chicago Medical Center in delivering the most babies on the South Side, with nearly 1,700 births at Mercy compared to almost 3,000 at U of C in 2018, the most recent state records show.
Trinity delivered just over 680 babies in 2018.
Jackson Park Hospital in South Shore, which delivered 140 babies in 2018, closed its obstetrics unit last year, citing a dwindling number of patients.
St. Bernard Hospital in Englewood, which sits between Trinity and Mercy and delivered almost 760 babies in 2018, stopped in April amid the pandemic. Instead, the hospital is referring laboring mothers to Mercy. A St. Bernard spokesman wrote in an email: “The hospital continues to review options” for whether to resume services.
Roseland Community Hospital on the far South Side, a roughly 20-minute drive southwest of Trinity, isn’t a popular place for pregnant women, with just 135 deliveries in 2018. But CEO Tim Egan said the hospital has seen volumes climb.
The crown jewel of deliveries in the entire state is Northwestern Memorial Hospital just north of the Loop in Streeterville, where just over 12,000 babies were born in 2018.
Back at Trinity, Lewis is eager to welcome back patients and staff. Many providers on the labor and delivery unit left to help out at other Advocate hospitals during the pandemic.
Kristen Schorsch covers public health on WBEZ’s government and politics team. Follow her @kschorsch.