At exactly 4 a.m. Saturday, the lights outside St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville shut off just as signs over the new facility in O’Fallon turned on.
The transition marked the end of a 142-year era for St. Elizabeth’s hospital ministry in Belleville, while a new chapter opened with the 144-bed hospital in O’Fallon.
Belleville resident Daniel J. Thelen, 83, was the first patient to arrive at the new hospital. A squad of over 20 ambulances transported 56 patients from Belleville to O’Fallon.
O’Fallon-Shiloh EMS paramedics left Belleville with Thelen at 5:07 a.m. and arrived in O’Fallon at 5:26 a.m.
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Although Thelen was the first patient to be taken to the new hospital, he said he hadn’t thought much about moving to the new building. But he had thought about all of the people who have cared for him since entered St. Elizabeth’s Hospital last month for open heart surgery.
“They love each other. Seriously. They work together. They’re a family and they’re a team,” he said moments before paramedics arrived in his room in Belleville to take him to O’Fallon.
The first baby to enter the new hospital arrived around 5:30 a.m. Emily Culliney, a doctor at St. Elizabeth’s Family Medical Residency clinic, gave birth to Sean Michael Culliney at 4:10 a.m. Friday. Sean and his mom were on the cusp of being discharged, but Culliney said she decided to transfer to the new hospital so Sean could get a little extra care.
“We thought, do I really want to go through with this? But it has just been as smooth as it can possibly be,” Culliney said.
Kevin Culliney agreed with his wife.
“I hate to use the word ‘easy’ because this wasn’t easy for the St. Elizabeth’s side of the house, but it was pretty easy for us,” Culliney said.
As an employee, Emily Culliney will work at the new clinic in O’Fallon. She said “it wasn’t planned” for the first new mom in the new hospital to also be an employee.
“I’m very excited, as medical staff. I haven’t seen the clinic side yet,” Culliney said.
No babies had been born in the new hospital as of Saturday morning and there were no expecting mothers in labor.
Dr. Jiggar Hindia, an intensivist doctor in the Intensive Care Unit, said he had plenty of worries about the move, but they never materialized.
“I was worried about everything, but my fears were allayed. The preparation was superb,” Hindia said. “Today everything went extremely smoothly.”
The last patient arrived shortly before 9:20 a.m., hours before the expected completion time of 2:30 p.m. A hospital spokeswoman said the move went quickly because there were fewer patients than planned for.
Dr. Len Glover has been an emergency room physician at St. Elizabeth’s since his residency 18 years ago.
“It’s bittersweet, a lot of memories here,” Glover said. “It was strange driving into work this morning.”
Glover said his thoughts go back to all of the patients he’s treated in the ER and all of the fellow staffers who have either retired or died.
He now looks forward to working in the new hospital, where he will finish his shift Saturday.
“I’m excited about the new place. It’ll be a lot of fun.”
Air Force Maj. Laura Raineri of the 932nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron based at Scott Air Force Base said 30 members of her reserve unit helped with the patient transfers Saturday.
On Friday night, nine members of the unit met with each patient to tell them what they could expect during the transfer.
Raineri said each patient had a tracking triage badge and members of her unit used their mobile phones to scan the badge for each patient before they left in an ambulance.
“It allows us to track the patient in their movement along their transfer,” Raineri said.
Raineri said St. Elizabeth’s put the process in place and the Scott unit was helping to implement it Saturday. “But it is a system that we use too in our missions,” she said.
After the final patient arrived, Sebastian thanked hospital staff and Scott Air Force Base personnel who helped with the transition.
“For many years, we’ve been dreaming this dream,” Sebastian said. “Today, you did it. You all together as one family ... made this dream come true.
“We were Belleville, we are now O’Fallon. Some of you are Highland,” the CEO said. “But we are all blessed.”
The transition was complete when employees in Belleville left for O’Fallon and Scott Air Force Base personnel swept the Belleville facility.
Robyn Borawski, who has worked at St. Elizabeth’s since 1977, was off duty Saturday but drove downtown at 4 a.m. because she wanted see the moment the hospital officially closed.
“I had to come and see it,” Borawski said.
Borawski works in the patient scheduling department and will remain in a St. Elizabeth’s office in downtown Belleville.
Since St. Elizabeth’s was unable to sell the hospital building in Belleville, hospital leaders have decided to have the building torn down. By 7 a.m. Sunday, crews had already begun to surround the building with construction fences.
Borawski said she will be “sad to see” the building demolished.
Roughly 200 employees will continue working in downtown Belleville for at least two years, while nearly 1,000 will work in O’Fallon, where the hospital, adjacent medical center and other costs totaled $300 million. Employees in Belleville will continue to staff departments including information technology, marketing and communications, and administration.
Some outpatient medical services will still be offered in two Belleville buildings, including therapy, radiology and laboratory services, the Southern Illinois Health Foundation clinic, Belleville Family Medical Associates and specialists’ offices.
St. Elizabeth’s is part of the Springfield-based Hospital Sisters Health System, which has 15 hospitals, including St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Highland and Holy Family Hospital in Greenville. The Belleville hospital traces its roots to 1875 when three nuns from Germany opened a hospital and convent in an old school house in St. Peter’s parish, according to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.
St. Elizabeth’s Hospital at a glance
- St. Elizabeth’s Hospital opened at 4 a.m. Saturday near the intersection of North Green Mount Road and Interstate 64 in O’Fallon. At the same time Saturday, St. Elizabeth’s closed its hospital in downtown Belleville.
- The new hospital at 1 St. Elizabeth’s Blvd. cost $253 million and has 144 beds. Construction began in 2015.
- A $34 million ambulatory care center is adjacent to the hospital. The total cost of the O’Fallon campus on 120 acres is valued at $300 million.
- The main phone number remains 618-234-2120. You also can get information from St. Elizabeth’s on Facebook and Twitter.