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St. Elizabeth’s Hospital question must move past parochialism

Tuesday at 9 a.m. in Bolingbrook is the final showdown for the state certificate stating there is a need for St. Elizabeth’s Hospital to move from Belleville to O’Fallon. The fact that this feels like a showdown is possibly the heart of the problem.

Lines have been drawn. It’s us vs. them. It’s either-or, with a Doomsday scenario in place.

But the parochial, Belleville vs. O’Fallon view is far too simple. At the same time, it is too important to ignore.

This is not a car dealer. This is not a matter of dueling incentives for a discount center. There is state oversight in this matter because a community’s health is at stake.

Additionally, this is an institution with 140 years of history. It is babies born, and lives saved, and the poor healed, and donations given, and careers built, and salaries sustaining, and sacrifices made — all in the name of faith and mission. There is a human weight, an emotional investment that builds up and ultimately sustains the hospital and community from all those souls touched for all those years.

The need for a new hospital is not in dispute, with narrow doors and infrastructure from the 1950s. The location of a new facility and its impact on patients remains the central question on the minds of the public and many local leaders.

The St. Clair County Health Department is opposing the move from Belleville because of its potential impact on the underserved and poor populations in Cahokia, Dupo, Millstadt, East St. Louis and surrounding communities. They question whether emergency rooms at Memorial Hospital and Touchette Regional Hospital can handle the load if St. Elizabeth’s moves nearly seven miles away. Those concerns are echoed in letters of opposition from state Sen. James Clayborne, state Rep. Jay Hoffman and state Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson.

So does Interstate 64 offer all the “access to care” needed by our community’s poor and medically underserved? Has enough attention even been given to that question to form a conclusive answer? Is there a better alternative or compromise so this showdown doesn’t leave some victorious and others wounded in the street?

Sadly, the sides are too dug-in. We fear that same polarization will fog the path forward regardless of the state’s decision on moving St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

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