In my role with HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, I analyze health care data, which we use to objectively and thoughtfully plan for how to deliver the highest quality and most effective health care services. All of our planning has one goal in mind: to ensure we meet the needs of our patients, both today and in the future. With that context, I want to address some of the misinformation that was put forth by Patty Gregory in her guest column last Sunday.
First, our replacement hospital along Interstate 64 will not create an uneven distribution of hospital beds in the area. Rather, it will equalize hospital-based services for the region. Belleville has about 45,000 residents, as do the combined cities of O’Fallon and Shiloh. Yet Belleville has 554 licensed hospital beds while O’Fallon/Shiloh has 94 approved beds for Memorial East, which is still under construction. If St. Elizabeth’s plans are approved, the O’Fallon/Shiloh area, which is the fastest growing area in the county, will have a total of 238 licensed beds and Belleville will have 210. This is a very reasonable and even approach to the distribution of licensed hospital beds.
It’s also important to remember that more than 75 percent of St. Elizabeth’s patients who are admitted for around-the-clock care live outside of Belleville. Our current hospital does not serve residents of one community over another. We care for patients who are admitted from across the region, whether they live in East St. Louis, Belleville or Breese. The health care needs of all of our patients were taken into account when planning our replacement hospital.
We serve a large geographical area, and where our patients come from is not expected to change, other than attracting an increased number of patients from currently underserved areas such as Caseyville and Venice. Because drive times decrease due to better access via I-64, we know that residents in 63 percent of the communities we currently serve will have shorter commutes to our replacement hospital. We recognize there are residents who live south of St. Elizabeth’s who may be farther away from the replacement hospital. These residents account for less than 8 percent of our patients. We point this out not to say these patients are unimportant, but as we planned for a replacement hospital, we looked at how best to serve the health care needs of the vast majority of our patients.
As part of our planning, St. Elizabeth’s also recognized that hospitals are seeing strong growth in ambulatory services while inpatient hospital visits are decreasing. Annually, about 6,000 patients visit St. Elizabeth’s Emergency Department who could have been treated just as effectively at an urgicare facility. These patients will still have access to an urgicare facility in downtown Belleville. Despite what Ms. Gregory stated in her editorial, we have consistently stated since we announced our project on June 25 that we are committed to maintaining outpatient services on our current campus. This commitment is the result of looking at patient utilization data and doing what’s best to meet the needs of all of our patients. While we enhance our outpatient services in Belleville, we are reducing the number of inpatient beds at our replacement hospital.
The residents of Belleville and the surrounding communities should know they will still have ample access to emergency services. Belleville Memorial currently has 10 more ER treatment bays than it needs, with capacity to treat an additional 20,000 ER patients annually. However, there is no reason to believe that the patients who need to visit the ER will not choose to go to the St. Elizabeth’s ER along I-64 since the majority of our patients will live closer to that location than to our current campus. If a patient is traveling by ambulance, they are transferred to the closest ER.
Finally, St. Elizabeth’s payer mix will not change. Mark Turner, CEO of Belleville Memorial, testified during their certificate of need hearing to redistribute their Emergency Department, inpatients beds, and outpatient services to Shiloh that their overall payer mix would not change. We agree with that statement and anticipate the payer mix of the population we serve to remain the same as well.
HSHS St. Elizabeth’s plans for its replacement hospital were not based on our “wants.” They were based on the needs of our patients in keeping with our mission to reveal and embody Christ’s healing love for all people through our high quality Franciscan health care ministry.
Amy Ballance is division vice president, Business Development & Strategy for the Hospital Sisters Health System, Southern Division.