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OSF is getting pushback on plans to downscale Ottawa hospital as part of Illinois Valley revamp

The Ottawa City Council hosted a town hall discussion on OSF HealthCare's plans for Saint Elizabeth Medical Center in Ottawa and Peru. Some Ottawa residents are concerned about a reduction in services in their city as OSF merges the two separate hospitals into one with two campuses.
The Ottawa City Council hosted a town hall discussion on OSF HealthCare's plans for Saint Elizabeth Medical Center in Ottawa and Peru. Some Ottawa residents are concerned about a reduction in services in their city as OSF merges the two separate hospitals into one with two campuses.

OSF HealthCare has reopened the bankrupt former Saint Margaret's hospital in Peru, but the impact that may have on another Illinois Valley community is sparking new concerns.

The city of Ottawa hosted a town hall meeting Wednesday about the health care system's proposal for a downsized hospital presence in that community.

OSF wants to make Peru the new hub of Saint Elizabeth Medical Center. The Peoria-based OSF purchased the former Saint Margaret's hospital in Peru last year after that health system declared bankruptcy and closed its two Illinois Valley hospitals. The move effectively gave OSF a hospital monopoly in a service planning area that includes LaSalle, Bureau, and Putnam counties, and a small portion of Stark County.

Under the proposals currently up for state regulatory review, OSF's Ottawa and Peru campuses would operate under the same Saint Elizabeth hospital license. The current aging campus in Ottawa would be demolished and replaced by a new $138 million facility across the street that has just 12 medical/surgical beds, down from the current 54.

Overflow patients will be transported to Peru, which would in turn see medical/surgical beds expanded from the current 38 to 45. ICU and obstetrics beds also would be moved to Peru. OSF says it will pay for those medical transports.

Ottawa Mayor Robert Hasty said the plan is a "failure on day one." He said the lowest number of occupied beds in Ottawa on any given day is projected to be a minimum of 15 — more than what's currently allotted.

"I feel it's a safe assumption that to unnecessarily transport anyone who has been admitted into a hospital is not only inconvenient, but also a decline in providing quality health care," he said.

OSF Western Region CEO August Querciagrossa defends the regional approach. He said the new Ottawa hospital will still have the majority of services people need, noting they see 50 outpatients for every inpatient.

"This is a hospital. It has a full service emergency room. And actually, I take offense to say that it is a [reduction]. These are board certified emergency room trained physicians who have served your community and will continue to serve them," he said.

In its application, OSF notes rural health care is distressed across the country, and LaSalle County has been no exception, citing the Saint Margaret's closures still fresh on the minds of many. OSF HealthCare chief operating officer Mike Cruz said the health care landscape is changing rapidly.

"Health care organizations must innovate, transform, reinvent, and restructure how we deliver care," he said. "There is no other option. It has to be done differently. Creating this regional health care model to serve this area is the best use of resources."

Nikki Thrush, a special education teacher and member of the Citizens for Healthcare in Ottawa group, pushed back. She said Saint Elizabeth is an exception to the narrative of struggling rural hospitals around the country, noting it rakes in profits and wins accolades for a high quality of care.

OSF Saint Elizabeth Medical Center president Dawn Trompeter said the reported profits are deceiving, though, because they only look at the hospitals without factoring in community physicians, digital services, and home care.

"Basically, that income each year, the last year that was provided, that was the first positive year when you factor in all of those," she said.

Resident John Armstrong argued money, not quality of care, is behind the changes.

"Not having a full service hospital will be a huge detriment to businesses and people looking to locate here," Armstrong said. "Make no mistake, OSF is a multi-billion dollar business and their current proposal is being driven by what is in the best financial interests of that multi-billion dollar business."

Thrush also expressed skepticism about the motives.

"OSF Saint Elizabeth has been unfortunately outshined purely due to its location on a map, being located between Rockford and Peoria. Peru just looks better on a map," Thrush said. "OSF talks about maintaining access to care in the I-80 corridor, but we argue it's the I-39 corridor that they want to command, and their newly announced investment in Dixon just enhances that fact."

But Cruz said limited resources must be deployed with an eye for how to best serve all residents, be it for a regular checkup, a heart attack, or a serious accident.

"This regional model doesn't lessen the importance of the care that takes place at your hospital. But the plans we've developed look at a bigger picture for the entire region. We have to look at it that way," Cruz said. "Your local hospital remains brand new, up to date, properly laid out and equipped, and will have passionate caregivers you can rely on just as you have since inception."

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board is holding a public hearing on the Ottawa application on June 13. The Peru application will get a separate public hearing on June 26.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.