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Here's where things currently stand with the closure of an Illinois Valley hospital

St. Margaret's - Peru via Facebook

Emily Schaub is pregnant, and she has nowhere to go.

The Peru Public Library employee was one of the women receiving obstetrics care at St. Margaret's Hospital in Peru before the suspension of services at the facility was abruptly announced.

"I am appalled by the way the hospital handled this. We are supposed to care about our community and do what's best for them. And I didn't see that at all," she told the LaSalle County Board on Thursday.

The only saving grace, she said, is that she's only 26 weeks pregnant, giving her doctor until May to obtain admitting privileges at another hospital. For other women, there isn't enough time to wait that long.

St. Margaret's Hospital in Peru closed on Jan. 28 with only several days' advanced notice to patients and staff.

For many, that notice came through social media posts. That includes elected officials like state Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) who say they were "blindsided" by the news.

Rezin is particularly concerned about the closure of the obstetrics unit at St. Margaret's in Peru.

The nearest hospitals offering OB services are OSF Saint Elizabeth's Medical Center in Ottawa, Morris Hospital, and OSF Saint James in Pontiac. Especially for those living in more rural areas of the Illinois Valley, that makes an already-lengthy trip for services even longer.

"This is wrong. And this is dangerous," Rezin said at a press conference this week.

St. Margaret's officials have said even if they are able to follow through on their plans to bring the Peru hospital back online as a rural emergency hospital, or REH, the OB unit won't be returning to either the Peru or Spring Valley hospitals they manage.

But St. Margaret's officials now say claim REH plan is in jeopardy without "an immediate infusion of cash," likely from the state or federal governments.

"We are exploring all options, among which is acquisition by a larger health system. We would like to engage state policy makers in a pilot or demonstration program which keeps OB available in our area and in similar areas across the state who have faced this dilemma or will face it in the near future," SMH president and CEO Tim Muntz and board chairman Terry Judd wrote in a five-page letter on Monday.

Judd previously said the hospital was losing around $5,000 per baby delivery, a cost they could no longer afford to absorb.

Rezin met this week with nurses who worked in Peru's obstetrics unit.

"It was an honest and raw discussion that I was thankful to be able to participate in," she said. "But in all reality, it was a meeting that should have been held by SMH management long before any public announcement about the temporary closures or permanent ending of any services."

Bonnie Bottenberg worked as an OB nurse at the hospital for twenty years. She started her career at Illinois Valley Community Hospital before it merged with St. Margaret's in 2021.

"What information St. Margaret's Health has shared since their impetuous closure of Peru's hospital has some rationalizations for this rash and ill advised measure, but it does not rectify the devastation that they have caused to our patients, staff and their families, and to the community in general," she said to the LaSalle County Board on Thursday.

Bottenberg also said she and many other staff were due to receive retention bonuses in February, a promise she said St. Margaret's officials broke.

SMH officials said the hospital service suspension was necessitated by the end of a expensive contract with a company that was providing staff for the hospital ER. Without those extra workers, the hospital claimed it didn't have enough people on payroll to keep both hospitals in Peru and Spring Valley open.

Jean Friel was the former chief compliance officer for Illinois Valley Community Hospital. She said the story St. Margaret's officials are telling now doesn't add up - and state and federal regulators should be taking note.

"This is all just very unethical behavior. It's riddled with negligence. St. Margaret's needs to come down from whatever high horse they're sitting on," Friel said. "And these agencies need to step in and provide the proper investigations so that they can be held accountable regarding these administrative and clinical practices that they are not abiding by."

The LaSalle County Board on Thursday passed a resolution calling on state and federal lawmakers to work towards reopening the hospital, with OB services restored.

St. Margaret's officials told reporters last month that in the best case scenario, the hospital could obtain the REH designation within 30 to 60 days and move to reopen.In a letter to the Illinois Department of Public Health and Health Facilities and Services Review Board, they proposed a timeline of sometime in the next several months, but not exceeding a year.

"We believe the silver lining in this dark cloud which we have all been under in the past few months is that we can, together, envision and support and provide a model for how hospitals and communities such as ours in Spring Valley, Peru and the surrounding area can survive financially," Muntz and Judd wrote in their Monday letter.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.