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City leaders, patients challenge Mercyhealth’s request to stop emergency services at west-side campus

Mercyhealth leaders say they have no intent to close the Rockton Avenue campus but may be forced to close if flooding issues aren’t addressed.
Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 4:11 PM CST
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - In what he calls a “stand against putting profits before people,” Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara blasts Mercyhealth during a virtual public hearing over its efforts to stop emergency room services at its Rockton Avenue campus.

McNamara requested Wednesday’s virtual hearing before the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board after Mercyhealth submitted an application to discontinue the Rockton Avenue site’s 70-bed medical surgical category of service. It plans to move all in-patient services to its newer Riverside Avenue campus.

“Not only is Javon Bae doing exactly what they said they wouldn’t do, but they are doing it at the worst possible time,” McNamara said during the hearing.

Tensions mounted between McNamara and Mercyhealth Chief Executive Officer Javon Bea after flooding in 2018 caused $30 million in damages to the Rockton Avenue hospital. Bea urged the mayor to invest in a box culvert system near the campus that could prevent a similar incident. Mercyhealth then filed a $24 million lawsuit against the city over the issue.

During a phone interview, Bea says more than $100 million in investments over the past six years is a sign the health system remains committed to the west side.

“The only thing that will threaten the Rockton Avenue hospital is the city not putting in that box culvert to make up for that 55-year-old, too-small-of sewer pipe,” Bea said. “Engineers say it’s like playing Russian Roulette.”

McNamara doesn’t buy it.

“Not only is Javon Bea AND the board doing exactly what they kept telling us they would not do, they’re actually doing it at the worst time possible. We are in the middle of the biggest surge of a once in a lifetime pandemic. Healthcare services are critical to ending this pandemic. And they can’t keep up. but somehow, Javon Bea and the board think now is the right time to shut down inpatient services to our residents most in need.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Maurice A. West III (D-Rockford) stated his case for the need for emergency room care in his district, which involves the entire west side of the city alongside democratic candidate for Congress in Illinois’ 17th District and former state representative Dr. Litesa Wallace.

Dr. Wallace stated “Healthcare is a fundamental human right. Your right to decent healthcare should not depend on your ZIP code.” She talked about how Mercyhealth pitched the idea of building the Riverside facility as “one hospital, two campuses,” but continued to remove services from the west side location. “I oppose this proposal, which threatens the health and well-being of thousands of people in Rockford and beyond,” said Dr. Wallace.

Dr. Wallace along with State Senator Steve Stadelman introduced and passed HB 4964, with the support of my colleague, State Sen. Steve Stadelman. The law amends the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Act, to require public notice and public hearings in the event of a proposed hospital closure.

“That law is the reason we have this legally mandated public hearing today – to let the people of our communities speak out about this proposal to shut the door to accessible, comprehensive healthcare for people on the west side of Rockford and Winnebago County.”

IHFSRB wrapped up the hearing after three hours saying a transcript would be available on their website.

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