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State official defends decision to move St. E’s hearing

The leader of a state board that will decide whether St. Elizabeth’s has a need to relocate its hospital defended the board’s decision to move the next public hearing to a church in East St. Louis where the pastor wrote a letter in support of the hospital’s plans to move to O’Fallon.

“I was not aware of the letter,” said Courtney Avery, administrator of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, when the board announced the location on Nov. 5.

The hearing originally was scheduled for Nov. 18 at Belleville West High School. But the District 201 Board of Education had passed a resolution against the hospital’s plans.

To avoid the conflict, Avery said the board sought a new location.

It has planned the hearing for 5 p.m. Nov. 18 at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church at 2235 Bond Ave.

Avery said several Belleville locations, including Southwestern Illinois College and Lindenwood University Belleville, were not available for the hearing. Common hearing locations, like a city’s council chambers and City Hall, would not be large enough, Avery said.

The first public hearing at the auditorium at Lindenwood had more than 600 people attend. Due to time restraints, not everyone who wanted to speak was able to do so. That’s why the board scheduled a second public hearing.

The hearing needs to be held in an area that would be affected by the hospital’s decision to move, Avery said.

The board did research and found two East St. Louis locations large enough for the public hearing: New Life Community Church and Mount Zion.

Avery said Mount Zion was chosen before she knew of the letter of support from the pastor, which some have viewed as a possible conflict of interest.

Stephanie Dorris and Patty Gregory, organizers of the group Oppose the Move: Save St. E’s Belleville, were not available Monday to comment.

In a letter dated Oct. 27, the Rev. Curtis Levingston, pastor of Mount Zion, wrote in support of the hospital’s move. The letter is one of hundreds attached to the hospital’s online application to the state board requesting permission to close the Belleville facility and build a new 144-bed hospital just off Interstate 64 at Green Mount Road.

The location for the public hearing cannot be changed because it is too late in the process, Avery said Monday.

To critics who have complained that the East St. Louis location might not be safe to travel to, especially at night, Avery said the state board has put on hearings in East St. Louis and parts of Chicago’s inner city. “Never has this been an issue,” she said.

Security will be at the meeting, which is normal to help with crowd control, Avery said.

The state board is scheduled to consider St. Elizabeth’s application at its Dec. 16 meeting in Bolingbrook. The deadline for submission of all public comments related to this project is Nov. 26.

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