By Carl Green
Belleville – St. Elizabeth’s Hospital officials are seeking to transform the 138-year-old institution into a new, union-built, 144-bed project regional health center that would be located along Interstate 64 in nearby O’Fallon.
Officials estimate they will invest about $300 million in the project.
The hospital’s current location on the south site of Belleville would continue to be used for specialists, imaging, lab work and primary care, but it would no longer have patient rooms for overnight stays.
Hospital officials brought their plans to the Southwestern Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council at its meeting last week as they began an effort to build community support for the project. It would be located on 114 acres between exits 14 and 16 on the northeast side of I-64, near Green Mount Road and the Hilton Garden Inn.
Charles “Totsie” Bailey, president of the Building Trades Council, said the project deserves labor’s backing.
“We’re going to support it 1,000 percent,” he said. “It’s great for the economy and the whole metro-east area.”
Bailey noted that by building with union workers, the hospital will keep the construction money in the community. “They’re all local people who will benefit,” he said. “That’s a win-win situation, period.”
IMPROVED HOSPITAL CONNECTIONS
The hospital is owned by Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS), which operates 13 hospitals in Illinois and Wisconsin. One idea of the building project would be to provide better connections to the group’s two other local hospitals, both called St. Joseph’s, one in Highland and the other in Breese.
St. Elizabeth’s President and CEO Maryann Reese said the traditional location used to be at the center of the community, handy to railroads and two-lane highways, but now is out of the way and difficult for many patients to reach. She noted that in the St. Louis region, most of the large medical centers are located in the I-64 corridor, and that’s where the hospital bought the land 2½ years ago. The current location is limited in its potential growth and functions. As one example, she said, it often has poor cell-phone reception.
A UNION-BUILT PROJECT
Reese said the hospital is definitely planning on a union-built project. “We want to make sure it’s on budget, on time, and of lasting quality,” she said.
Jim Burke, vice president of the HSHS Southern Illinois Division, told the Building Trades Council that the medical center has two major hurdles to clear. One is to get a final decision from the hospital system itself to invest the money. The other is to obtain a Certificate of Need from a state committee, the Health Facilities and Services Review Board. Detailed plans will go to that board for consideration next year, he said.
“It is probably the hurdle,” Burke said. “We can still get there, but that thing is beyond our control. Community support – or lack of it – can influence the board one way or the other.”
COMMUNITY SUPPPORT NEEDED
Burke noted that Belleville supporters of the hospital have found it difficult to endorse a move to O’Fallon, but he said the community will be better served by the move.
“It’s tough for a lot of folks, personally and politically,” he said. “But it is not a good idea to have that hospital shrink into a small, community hospital.”
He noted that the Belleville site has several up-to-date medical buildings that would be used for decades to come. “It would not be an abandoned building, like a Ballpark Village hole in the ground,” he said. The remaining clinics could also provide urgent care, which provides office treatment that doesn’t require an emergency room.
O’FALLON ALREADY ON BOARD
O’Fallon has already approved a tax increment financing district of up to $22.5 million for the I-64 site, which could be used to prepare the site for construction by protecting it from potential mine subsidence. The Central School District agreed to the plan after long negotiations.
Reese, a nurse, was made CEO 2 ½ years ago, in part to lead a turnaround effort to stem losses. It was honored last year as one of the top 50 hospitals in the nation for cardiovascular care after a review of 1,000 hospitals. The hospital co-exists in Belleville with a large competitor, Belleville Memorial Hospital, which has announced expansion plans of its own, in this case a 94-bed satellite hospital in nearby Shiloh.