By CARL GREEN
Belleville – Metro East construction workers had reason to be concerned, but last week they finally got the welcome news that St. Elizabeth’s Hospital can go ahead with plans to build a new hospital in O’Fallon.
Construction and trades workers had been among the strongest supporters of the plan, in part because it could lead to many millions of dollars in construction work but also because it will provide the region an up-to-date hospital in a handy location along Interstate 64.
The Illinois Health Service and Facilities Review Board voted 8-0 to grant St. Elizabeth’s a certificate of need to build the new hospital at its meeting Wednesday, April 22, in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook.
In previous meetings, the board had trouble mustering a quorum, including voting 4-1 in favor of the project in January, when five votes were needed.
Finally, the board issued an “intent to deny” notice that threatened to unravel the project if a favorable majority had not been mustered at the meeting last week.
The hospital will have 144 beds with state-of-the-art facilities and private restrooms, replacing the old building with its 303 beds in cramped rooms built in the 1950s, when people stayed in the hospital longer.
The hospital is expected to cost $253 million, and an adjacent ambulatory care center will bring the price tag up to $300 million. But the project is also expected to generate far more in additional development.
“I think it’s going to be a good thing for the entire region,” Nick Dodson, construction and trades representative to the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council, at that group’s meeting Wednesday.
“It’s going to really help jump-start development all along the I-64 corridor – we estimate as much as $1 billion in the next 10 or 15 years along that corridor,” Dodson added.
The location has been a major issue of debate because it will, by necessity, be further from the neighborhoods of Belleville where it is now located, and further for towns south of Belleville such as Smithton and Freeburg. But for other locations, it will be easier to reach, in part because drivers won’t have to go into downtown Belleville.
“It’s going to be really close to a lot of people, and it’s going to eliminate having a railroad crossing directly on the south side of the hospital when people are trying to access the facilities there,” Dodson noted. “It’s right off the interstate.”
Belleville residents and officials bitterly opposed the plan, along with Belleville Memorial Hospital, which is building a 94-bed satellite hospital in Swansea, near the St. Elizabeth site. Memorial’s main hospital, with 216, is to remain at its location on the city’s north side.
St. Elizabeth’s has remained firm in saying its old hospital has become obsolete and the old site is too small and hard to reach for the modern building it is planning. The hospital has no interest in rebuilding on the old site.
Hospital President Maryann Reese had this comment: “We are thrilled that we can move forward with our plans to build a state-of-the-art hospital for the region and an ambulatory care center that anticipates the continued trend toward outpatient care,” she said.
“The new medical campus will enhance our ability to develop an integrated care delivery model that will serve residents from across Southwestern Illinois.”
STILL IN BELLEVILLE
Both supporters and opponents of the project traveled to Bolingbrook to repeat their arguments before the review board, and some board members said they respected the opponents’ position and found the choice a difficult one to make.
The board also took an unusual step by requiring the hospital to keep 200 employees in Belleville for two years after the hospital is completed in 2017. It now has about 1,500 employees.
Dodson said the hospital will remain a major part of Belleville in the future, even though the old building is to be demolished to make way for new construction.
“I know Belleville’s taking it on the chin a little bit, but they are going to build facilities down there,” he said. “They’re going to have outpatient facilities, and they are going to have a lot of doctors’ offices down there.”
Reese, the hospital president, said, “We also look forward to re-purposing our current campus to continue providing health care services in downtown Belleville.”
Union craftsmen to build new, modern St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in O’Fallon
Here’s the prognosis on the new St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, which approved for construction last week by the Illinois Health Service and Facilities Review Board.
• Union built – St. Elizabeth’s has planned on union construction from the beginning of the project and has worked with trades and construction unions in its campaign for approval. It expects to have up to 300 workers there at peak times.
• What’s included? – The hospital will have 144 private rooms, emergency department, operating rooms, advanced intensive care unit, inpatient rehabilitation.
• Where will it be? – The 114-acre site is on Green Mount Road just east of Interstate 64 and north of the intersection of those two roads, at the south and west corner of O’Fallon.
• What services are planned? – Inpatient and outpatient services, plus – among others – cancer care, birthing suites, heart specialists, “telehealth” consultations for stroke and other ailments, and hospitalists, who specialize in caring for hospital patients.
• Who owns it? – Hospital Sisters Health Care System, based in Springfield, IL.
• What will Belleville get? – Same-day ambulatory clinic; physical, occupational and back-to-work therapy; radiology and laboratory services; primary care physicians and health care specialists’ offices; business offices; marketing and communications; staff education; information and technology; purchasing and print shop; Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation clinic.