Millions more could be spent on spin-off projects
By CARL GREEN
Belleville – The public hearing held on St. Elizabeth’s Hospital’s plan to rebuild seven miles away near Interstate 64 in O’Fallon covered many topics but never got too far from one issue – whether “St. E’s” should be a community hospital or a regional health care center.
The hearing of the Illinois Health Facilities Review Board filled the grand auditorium at Lindenwood College, formerly Belleville West High School. Speakers alternated between opponents and supporters of the plan.
The opponents mostly were Belleville residents concerned about the hospital leaving its east side Belleville neighborhood, which includes many of the city’s poorer residents.
“Their actions speak louder than their words. You cannot serve the poor by moving away from them,” Belleville resident Patty Gregory said.
Supporters, many of whom were employed by the hospital or the Hospital Sisters, emphasized that the new site in O’Fallon would be closer for most metro-east residents and vastly more up to date and better-equipped than the existing hospital, which was built about 70 years ago.
“I would suggest it is similar to having an old car,” said Tim Ferguson, a Hospital Sisters financial officer. “It does not run well, it is not very fuel-efficient and it requires constant maintenance.”
GOOD MOVE FOR BUILDING TRADES
St. Elizabeth's plans to build the new 144-bed hospital on 114 acres north of Interstate 64 and west of Green Mount Road, about seven miles from its current location on Third Street in Belleville.
Building trades unions are eying the discussion because the $300 million hospital project would provide much needed work, with the potential for millions more in spin-off construction.
“This is going to be a tremendous project for southwestern Illinois,” said Duane “Totsie” Bailey, president of the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council.
“It’s needed for access and health care in our region, and it’s needed for job creation for Illinois residents,” Bailey said. “St. Elizabeth’s is a major employer that is staying and expanding in Illinois.”
The nine-member Review Board will meet on Dec. 16 to decide whether to approve the hospital’s request for a certificate of need.
Between now and then, written comments will be accepted and the board’s staff will issue a report on whether the request meets state rules and regulations.
Area residents can submit letters stating their opinions about the move to: Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, 2nd Floor, 525 W. Jefferson St., Springfield, IL 62761.
BETTER ACCESS FOR METRO EAST RESIDENTS
Supporters said the new site on a major interstate highway will be easier for most Metro East residents to get to than the current location in downtown Belleville.
“It’s a regional asset, it’s a unique facility, and it’s in the middle of an excellent highway grid,” said state Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton), whose district includes the hospital site.
“This is a major improvement for the region,” Haine added. “It will serve southern Illinois – not just southwestern Illinois – because it’s easily accessible through I-64.”
Mary Starmann-Harrison, president and CEO of Hospital Sisters, said the current site has too little space on which to rebuild. The Sisters’ legacy is to serve those who are now underserved, and the move would advance that cause, she said.
“This legacy will expand as St. Elizabeth’s moves to its new location,” she said. “We will be closer to a great number of communities with significantly high numbers of people living at or below the poverty level.”
SOME SERVICES TO REMAIN IN BELLEVILLE
The old hospital building would not be re-used, but the support buildings around it will continue providing same-day urgent care, radiology and laboratory services and offices for both primary-care doctors and specialists, Starmann-Harrison said.