By CARL GREEN
Belleville, IL – Supporters of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital’s new $300 million construction project far outnumbered opponents at a public hearing Dec. 2.
Opponents got their say. But when they were through, more than 25 supporters of the project were still lined up and ready to speak on its behalf.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board will consider all of the testimony and render a binding decision Dec. 16 at a meeting in Bolingbrook near Chicago.
Metro East construction and trades workers are eager to hear the decision, because the hospital and adjacent developments – which are expected to bring the total amount of construction dollars spent to $1 billion – will provide much needed work and investments.
The hospital’s owners, the Hospital Sisters Health System, has proposed demolishing the old 303-bed St. Elizabeth’s hospital in downtown Belleville and replacing it with a state-of-the-art, 144-bed hospital along Interstate 64 near Green Mount Road in O’Fallon. Some offices, labs and walk-in services would remain in Belleville.
Opponents don’t want to see the city of Belleville lose one of its two full-service hospitals.
Nick Dodson, the construction and trades representative on the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council, described how St. Elizabeth’s has been important to his family and how it serves a much wider region than just Belleville.
“St. E’s provided many of my family members with very good health care over the years, and I credit them with saving my father’s life years ago with their fantastic heart specialists.
“Everyone should remember that we are a region and that no one community can be the center of the universe. As medical science changes and our population ages, it makes zero sense for the hospital to remain landlocked and hard to reach by most people in the Metro East area.
“The Metro East is a region, and this new hospital will be a huge plus and a win-win proposition for the entire area.”
This was the second public hearing on the project.
A hearing at Lindenwood College in Belleville in October concluded before everyone had a chance to testify.
The Dec. 3 hearing, at the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds and Expo Center, drew a crowd of more than 500 participants.
For two hours, hearing officers carefully alternated between project opponents and supporters. By 7 p.m., they had heard from more than 70 speakers.
That’s when opponents ran out of speakers. Supporters still had at least 25 people queued up.
OLD HOSPITAL IS OUT OF DATE
Supporters said the old hospital, built in the 1950s, is hopelessly out-of-date and inadequate for modern medical practices, and the chosen site would provide better access.
Some opponents have suggested building a new hospital on the current site, rather along Interstate 64.
“If you look at the land currently occupied, and also the adjacent land owned by the city of Belleville, there is more than enough room to build new in downtown,” said Roger Wigginton, a Belleville resident.
Supporters of the project said the current location is inconvenient and difficult to get to for patients from outside of Belleville.
NEW BUSINESS MODEL
Bob Farmer, a family doctor affiliated with St. Elizabeth’s, said the hospital needs a new business model that includes a more accessible location.
“The reality is this – despite great quality health care – St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the last decade has literally lost tens of millions of dollars. We need a new business model.”
In order to fulfill its mission of serving those who are underserved, Farmer said, St. Elizabeth’s must operate in the black.
“The bottom line is the sisters have served this community since 1875. They’ve done a great job, and I believe they know what they’re doing. I think we should grant them some latitude,” Farmer said.
WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?
If you have an opinion on the project, comments may submitted to: Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board at 2nd Floor, 525 W. Jefferson St., Springfield, IL 62761.