After months of uncertainty about the future of Mercy Hospital, a safety net facility in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, state regulators approved its sale to a non-profit healthcare company on Monday.
The Illinois Health and Facilities Services Review Board approved the $1 purchase of Mercy Hospital by Flint, Michigan-based Insight. The board approved a change of ownership by a vote of 5-to-0, with one abstention and one absence.
Following months of attempts to close the facility, and then a bankruptcy filing by Mercy’s current owner Trinity Health, some board members voted “reluctantly” in favor of Insight’s purchase, citing a rushed process and skepticism about the thoroughness of Insight’s application. However, board members encouraged Insight to work closely with members of the community as they restore Mercy’s facilities.
Insight, a multifaceted health services company founded by neurosurgeon Jawad Shah, MD, has committed to keeping the Bronzeville hospital running as a full-service, community acute care facility. It will be equipped with an emergency department, an ICU, an obstetrics unit, behavioral health services, a stroke program, and inpatient surgical beds.
“We are very happy and pleased with the board’s decision,” Atif Bawahab, chief strategy officer at Insight, said in an interview with MedPage Today. Bawahab emphasized that Insight will be taking a “robust community approach” to restore Mercy Hospital.
“The first and foremost intent of this hospital is to be a non-profit, charitable institution whose primary purpose is to serve the community,” Bawahab stated.
In a statement to Crain’s Chicago Business, Mercy Hospital said it “applaud[s] the vote by the board today that will help support continuity of care for South Side patients.”
“After a lengthy process that included the evaluation of dozens of proposals, the Insight proposal was the only one that had both the financing and a commitment to run a full-service community hospital with emergency and maternity services. We look forward to working with the Insight team as we transition Mercy Hospital,” the statement said.
According to a change-of-ownership document, Mercy’s name will change and it will no longer operate as a Catholic facility once the Insight purchase is finalized.
Mercy and Insight have signed a non-binding purchase agreement, and a new contract must still be signed and the deal subsequently closed. Until that final purchase agreement is signed, Mercy Hospital will adhere to its plan to close on May 31, as a condition of the bankruptcy filing.
The approval follows several attempts by Trinity Health to close the facility. Trinity attempted a merger that failed last August, and then tried to cease inpatient services. However, the last attempt to close was rejected by the state in December. Trinity filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month, citing more than $30.2 million in losses during the last 6 months.
But Trinity’s attempts to close the facility have been met with pushback and criticism from activists and legislators in the Bronzeville community. Mercy, Chicago’s oldest hospital, provides care to patients regardless of their ability to pay, and serves a predominantly Black community. Trinity’s attempts to close Mercy in the middle of a pandemic and in a community faced with significant healthcare disparities spurred an outpouring of community outreach.
While many of those who fought to save Mercy are relieved that the board’s approval will keep its doors open, they are committed to ensuring that community members have a say in the hospital’s future.
Jitu Brown, a community organizer with the Chicago Health Equity Coalition and long-time patient of Mercy Hospital, said that he is disappointed by Trinity’s rushed process to secure a buyer without asking for community input. There was initial interest from another buyer, a group of Black doctors associated with Humboldt Park Health (formerly known as Norwegian Hospital), but a spokesperson told the Chicago Tribune that they did not have the funding.
While Brown, who has been involved with grassroots movements to save the hospital since last spring, wishes the community had a chance to vet other buyers, he stated that he is hopeful for the future.
“The hospital will remain open, and we are very excited about that,” Brown said in an interview. “We are committed to working with Insight to make sure that what happened under Trinity’s leadership does not happen here.”
The Chicago Health Equity Coalition is demanding that community members be included on the hospital board to ensure that the facility meets community needs.
“I’m feeling cautiously hopeful,” said an employee of Mercy Hospital who asked to remain anonymous. She told MedPage Today that Insight has made plans to restore many services at Mercy that had been gutted, keep on the current staff, and work with the community. “We are just all questioning if that is going to come through,” she said.
While the employee stated that hospital staff are skeptical due to the rushed process, she is optimistic that the activism that helped keep the hospital open will continue to ensure that Insight meets the needs of Mercy’s patients.
“I’m really hopeful that we can actually save this hospital, and keep it as a real resource for the community.”