Workers have already put 21,000 man-hours on the project
By CARL GREEN
Belleville – One of the metro east area’s largest construction projects, the new St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, can continue without fear of shutdown from a lawsuit filed against it by the City of Belleville.
St. Clair County Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf dismissed the lawsuit at a hearing on Friday, saying the city does not have the standing to file such a suit under Illinois case law.
City attorneys had hoped to win a stay shutting down the project at least temporarily until a final decision could be made, but Rudolf’s ruling ends the proceedings. City attorneys said they will discuss options with the City Council.
More than 100 union workers are employed at the construction site near Interstate 64 in O’Fallon, including Laborers, Carpenters and Iron Workers. The hospital reports that the union is on schedule and on budget.
The city filed suit to block the project last May after the Illinois Health Facility and Services Review Board approved a certificate of need for the plan in April. St. Elizabeth’s, part of the Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS) proposed the 144-bed, $253 million new hospital to replace its aging building in downtown Belleville.
Belleville argued that moving the hospital out of the city would diminish health care availability for its residents and those of surrounding towns. St. Elizabeth’s has maintained that the O’Fallon site will be handier for most of its patients and that Belleville residents will continue to be served.
THE CASE LAW
Rudolf’s decision on Friday was essentially over legal technicalities. Laws regarding appeals of certificate-of-need decisions have changed over the years, leaving a potentially confusing string of court decisions to guide judges in new cases.
Dan Lawler, representing St. Elizabeth’s, argued that the most important case law states that such appeals can be filed only by parties with a direct financial interest, such as a competing health care provider. The city and its mayor, Mark Eckert, have only a “derivative” interest that does not meet the test, he said.
The hospital issued a statement after the decision. “HSHS St. Elizabeth’s is pleased that the Circuit Court ruled that Mayor Mark Eckert and the city of Belleville had no standing to bring their lawsuit and has dismissed the case,” the statement read. “We hope today’s court action puts an end to the mayor’s eight months of litigation against us. We look forward to working with local elected officials and members of the community regarding how best to repurpose our Belleville campus when we move in-patient services to our new medical campus along I-64.”
The Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council had filed to become an intervener in the case and was represented at the hearing.
The Council’s petition said workers have already put 21,000 man-hours on the project and could reach 1 million.
“If the plaintiffs successfully challenge the approval of the application and/or stay is ordered, the union members on this project represented by the members of the Council will suffer a tangible detriment in the form of lost wages, benefits and job security,” the Council petition said.