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State board hearing set for St. Elizabeth’s plan to move

The state board that approves or turns down plans for medical facilities is scheduled to vote Tuesday on St. Elizabeth’s Hospital’s proposal to move from Belleville to O’Fallon.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board will meet in Bolingbrook to consider the hospital’s application, called a certificate of need.

It’s the second time that the St. Elizabeth’s application has been on the board’s agenda. The board was scheduled to hear the request on Dec. 16, but St. Elizabeth’s asked for a postponement after learning that only five of the board’s eight members would be present.

For an application to be approved, at least five board members must vote in favor of it.

The board’s administrator, Courtney Avery, said about 30 people are signed up to give statements in support of or in opposition to the St. Elizabeth’s application. The board will give each person 1 or 2 minutes to speak, Avery said.

St. Elizabeth’s is asking the board for permission to close its 303-bed hospital in downtown Belleville and open a replacement hospital off Interstate 64 on North Green Mount Road. The cost of the project is $253 million. St. Elizabeth’s also proposes building an ambulatory care center adjacent to the new hospital, making the total cost of the project about $300 million.

Supporters of the project have said the O’Fallon location, by the interstate, will be easier for more patients to access. However, those who oppose the project have accused the hospital of abandoning Belleville, where it has operated almost 140 years.

St. Elizabeth’s officials say the outdated Belleville hospital building will be razed if no new tenant can be found. Hospital leaders also say they’d keep an outpatient medical campus in downtown Belleville, including an urgent-care center, doctor offices, labs and therapy services.

Avery said board members will vote Tuesday, after hearing the proposal from St. Elizabeth’s. If St. Elizabeth’s doesn’t get favorable votes from at least five board members, the proposal will receive an “intent to deny.” In that case, St. Elizabeth’s still would have a chance to make another presentation in front of the board at a future date, possibly making revisions to the plan.

The hospital’s president, Maryann Reese, said a preliminary denial “is not unusual for a project of this size.”

“The board may have additional requests or questions for us to answer,” Reese said. “If that would occur, we would restate our project at a future meeting.”

And what happens to the hospital’s Belleville facility if the board never approves the O’Fallon move? Reese stopped just short of saying the Belleville location would close. She said St. Elizabeth’s has studied the possibility of renovating the building or rebuilding at the same location, but “that’s not a viable option for us.”

Reese is optimistic that the board will give approval.

“We’re focused on the future and very confident in our application. We’re very prepared,” she said. “We feel we have a very strong application.”

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert, who opposes the move, could not be reached for comment.

Reese said leaders from St. Elizabeth’s and from its parent, Hospital Sisters Health Systems, will attend the hearing. Nuns from HSHS also will attend, she said.

The state’s certificate-of-need program for medical facilities is designed to keep rising health care costs in check by preventing unnecessary construction or modification of health care facilities.