O'FALLON — St. Elizabeth's Hospital plans to build a new hospital in O'Fallon and eventually vacate the building housing the downtown Belleville hospital.
However, officials from St. Elizabeth's and its owner, Hospital Sisters Health System, plan to continue providing some healthcare services at the hospital's existing Belleville campus.
St. Elizabeth's president and CEO Maryann Reese said: "After years of planning, I am happy to announce that the St. Elizabeth's Board of Directors has approved building a regional hospital and medical office building on 114 acres of land located seven miles from our current hospital campus."
She added: "This project will provide area residents with access to a state-of-the-art medical facility, boost the local economy, and enhance the quality of life for Southwestern Illinois. St. Elizabeth's also will re-envision our existing campus with input from Belleville residents."
In an interview after the announcement, Reese clarified that buildings surrounding the hospital, housing physicians offices and other healthcare services, will continue to be used. However, she said current plans would lead to the current hospital building eventually closing.
About 100 people attended the announcement Wednesday morning at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Belleville. Hospital and HSHS staff were joined by community leaders. Dignitaries included O'Fallon Mayor Gary Graham, state Sen. Bill Haine, and The Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert did not attend the announcement; on the stage at the ceremony was an empty seat with a placard bearing his name. He said he was invited Tuesday evening to the announcement, but he had already committed to attend the East-West Gateway Council of Governments meeting Wednesday morning in St. Louis.
In November 2011, HSHS purchased 106 acres in O'Fallon for $18 million. The hospital announced plans at that time to build a $300 million, 144-bed hospital north of Interstate 64 and west of Green Mount Road. However, there had been no progress since then, and the hospital had declined to say whether it planned to keep its Belleville hospital open.
The hospital officials said the new replacement hospital will be more centrally located for the metro-east region served by the St. Elizabeth's, and closer to Scott Air Force Base. They said the new location will be "more accessible to underserved patients than the hospital's current campus."
Bill Lyke, chairman of the St. Elizabeth's board of directors, said the current Belleville building is "obsolete and out of date." The board's vote to proceed with the O'Fallon hospital was unanimous.
Reese added that the downtown Belleville campus is landlocked on 17 acres, and it would take twice as much time and money to retrofit the Belleville hospital facility for modern medical needs. "It just doesn't make sense," she said.
But Reese said St. Elizabeth's will continue to provide a range of outpatients services and maintain various support functions at its Belleville campus. Those services will include a same-day ambulatory clinic featuring radiology, lab services, physician offices and physical therapy.
Reese said she invites neighbors to try to transform the Belleville site's 17 acres to best serve Belleville.
"We stand by ready to work with Belleville officials," she said.
Dr. Len Glover, an emergency room physician at St. Elizabeth's, said the new hospital will allow for greater patient care: "Simply put, a hospital built in the 1950s does not have the capacity to support 21st century technology."
The new St. Elizabeth's will continue to be a teaching hospital and will provide 144 private patient rooms, an emergency department, operating rooms, an intensive care unit and inpatient rehabilitation. Inpatient and outpatient services offered at the new location will include cancer care, birthing suites, telehealth consultations, stroke care and heart care.
"In addition to providing the most advanced health care for the metro-east region, our new hospital will be better able to serve those who need us most," Reese said. "Our 140-year-long commitment to care for all residents in the metro-east region is as strong as ever, and the location for St. Elizabeth's will provide quicker and more convenient access for many residents currently living in underserved neighborhoods."
Before any new medical facility can be constructed, a permit -- called a certificate of need -- must be granted from the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board.
St. Elizabeth's plans to file for the certificate of need later this summer and expects the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to approve it in the fall, Reese said.
Dale Stewart, of Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, said Wednesday that the project "could result in hundreds of jobs."
Sister Jomar Trstensky, of the Order of St. Francis, said St. Elizabeth's has honored the religious order's mission of serving the injured, sick and poor, regardless of race, color or creed, for more than 139 years.
"We have learned that the location of service does not define the ministry," Trstensky said.
St. Elizabeth's administrators said in 2012 they had no intention of leaving Belleville.
In April, the city of Belleville hired a Chicago attorney to help keep the hospital from leaving town.
On Wednesday, Eckert released a statement that said, "I am certainly disappointed that, despite repeated requests, St. Elizabeth's Hospital has been unwilling to meet with the City of Belleville to explore a modernized hospital in Belleville."
Memorial Hospital, the other hospital located in Belleville, in recent years has continued to expand its Belleville campus and in January began construction on a 94-bed, all-private room hospital on Cross Street in Shiloh.
Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at email@example.com or 618-239-2460.