July 2, 2008

Silver Cross Gets Panel’s OK for New Hospital

By Jeffrey Meitrodt and Joel Hood, Chicago Tribune

Jul. 2--SPRINGFIELD -- Silver Cross Hospital won state permission Tuesday to move from its aging campus in Joliet to a new, $398 million facility in New Lenox despite spirited opposition from local officials who accuse the hospital of abandoning a poor black neighborhood for a wealthier white one.

The approval came after a state siting panel surprised administrators at Edward Hospital in Naperville by frowning on a long-standing request to build a full-service hospital in Plainfield and suggesting instead a "women's hospital" catering to expectant mothers might get a warmer reception.

The relatively quick approval for Silver Cross, meanwhile, brought a mixed reaction from leaders in Will County who had been split on the issue.

"This is just disastrous to the city and the people of the east side," Joliet City Councilman Joe Shetina said. "This is a decision that caters to the wealthy and the few at the expense of the poor and the many."

But Will County Executive Larry Walsh said the move would mean better health care for residents throughout the region, including those who depend on Silver Cross.

Approval of the 289-bed hospital--15 fewer than in the current facility--came with several conditions to ensure Joliet's poor continue to get medical care.

Silver Cross had to guarantee 24-hour bus service to the new facility, which will be built 31/2 miles east of the current hospital near the Maple Road exit off the Interstate Highway 355 extension. Pace, the suburban bus agency, has agreed to add a route to bring employees and patients from the old site to the new one, and the hospital will run a shuttle to fill in gaps.

The hospital also said it will seek to secure approval to put a federally subsidized medical center offering urgent and primary care at the Joliet site after the move is completed in 2012.

Board member David Carvalho, deputy director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, pressed hospital officials on the issue of race, asking pointed questions about the demographics of the two locations.

"It looks like part of what is behind this relocation is moving to a location that will be more attractive to part of your service area," Carvalho said.

But Silver Cross Senior Vice President Ruth Colby denied race was a factor in the move, saying the hospital simply wants to expand to a larger piece of land it already owns that is situated "smack-dab" in the middle of its primary service area, where about 80 percent of its patients live.

Acting Chairman Susana Lopatka was much less supportive of the 162-bed Edward project for Plainfield. She also drew snickering from some audience members when she suggested Edward come back with a modified proposal for a "women's hospital." Lopatka said the area could use as many as 85 obstetric beds, instead of the 22 beds in Edward's application.

"It was a very unusual meeting and it was a very unusual request," said Brian Davis, Edward's vice president of marketing. "We are going to have to regroup and figure out what is really feasible."

Tribune reporter Bruce Japsen contributed to this report.

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