August 25, 2014

It's official: St. Elizabeth's submits documents to build new hospital in O'Fallon

St. Elizabeth's Hospital has submitted to the state its Certificate of Need, a 500-plus page document requesting approval to build a new hospital in O'Fallon.

Plans call for a $300 million, 144-bed hospital to be built on 114 acres of land north of Interstate 64 and west of Green Mount Road, located seven miles from the current downtown Belleville location.

Melissa Sterling, a spokeswoman for St. Elizabeth's parent company, Springfield-based Hospital Sisters Health Systems, said the request was submitted Monday to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board in Springfield.

"We're very excited and very proud of our application," Sterling said. "We are so thrilled to get it out there."

Hospital Sisters has said it wants to leave downtown Belleville because it would take twice as much time and money to retrofit the 138-year-old hospital for modern medical needs.

Under Illinois law, nursing homes, hospitals and other medical centers must apply for and receive a certificate of need from the nine-member health services review board before they can build, expand or close a medical building.

The board has 10 days to deem the application complete and two to three months to review the document before it can be placed on the board's agenda. At least five of the board's nine members must approve the proposal.

Sterling said the hospital plans to host a public hearing to share details of the proposed development. A date has not yet been set.

After learning about the filing on Monday, Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said he and attorneys representing the city will continue to make a case for why the hospital should stay in Belleville and plan to be ready by the hearing date.

Eckert said he will ask for a hearing in Belleville.

"We'll continue to try to seek the interest of people who share the same concern of the hospital leaving Belleville," Eckert said. "We're very concerned about what's going to happen here. We don't want an abandoned hospital."

Eckert has encouraged residents, businesses and others in the community to join a letter-writing campaign to fight the hospital's application of need. The city will soon provide more information on this effort to anyone interested.

"Our downtown businesses and residents -- all 44,478 of them -- are going to feel this abandonment," Eckert said. "We hope they stand together in saying the city has been a good partner with St. Elizabeth's for 140 years and think it's very important for the hospital and HSHS to continue to build in Belleville."

O'Fallon Mayor Gary Graham said he could not be more excited about the potential development. He said the city has been working with the hospital for the past two years on the proposed project.

"It's been a long time coming," Graham said. "As a city we're excited."

Said Graham, "We feel bad for Belleville. It's not about O'Fallon, it's about the site where they're building. If Belleville had an interstate, then they would have gotten it there."

HSHS purchased its 106-acres in O'Fallon for $18 million in November 2011.

In April 2011, Memorial Hospital in Belleville announced that it had purchased land in Shiloh and had submitted a Certificate of Need before the state health services review board to build an $118 million, 94-bed satellite hospital.

Two months later, the board met in Joliet, where both Eckert and Shiloh Mayor Jim Vernier spoke on behalf of Memorial Hospital in support of the proposed satellite hospital. Prior to the board meeting, administrators from St. Elizabeth's Hospital issued a letter objecting to Memorial Hospital's proposal and stating that Memorial Hospital's application fails to meet state criteria for expanding. At that time, officials from St. Elizabeth's Hospital said that this opposition was not an anti-competitive reaction.

The board unanimously approved Memorial Hospital's request. Construction of the satellite hospital, to be known as Memorial Hospital-East, is underway and expected to be completed by 2016.

In a statement released Monday afternoon by Memorial Hospital in Belleville, Hospital/Community Relations Director Anne Thomure said, "We will be reviewing this matter closely to assess the impact it would have on the communities we serve. The state of Illinois and the Health Facilities Planning Board will ultimately make that decision, based on the merits of the project in accordance with rules of the state. We are fully confident that they will conduct a thorough and thoughtful review of this project, and we, along with many other stakeholders, look forward to being a part of that process."

Reporters Maria Hasenstab and Jacqueline Lee contributed information for this story.

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