Belleville leaders aren’t publicly commenting about their legal action to keep St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville, so we can only assume they believe they are acting in the best interests of city residents and taxpayers. But it is hard to see how this path leads to anywhere positive or productive, for Belleville or the region.
We understand why they don’t want the hospital to go. St. E’s move to O’Fallon will not only leave a huge physical void downtown, but will leave questions about whether the poor will have their health needs adequately met in the future. Spending tax dollars to persuade the state to block the move arguably made sense. But now that the state has approved the move, it may be time to respect the process and accept the decision.
If St. E’s were almost any other kind of private business, it could have left Belleville without needing the state’s blessing. In Illinois, hospitals are required to get approval from the state Health Facilities and Services Review Board. The board reviewed volumes of information about this move, pro and con, then voted 8-0 to allow it. It is difficult to imagine anyone overturning that decision.
In O’Fallon, ground for a new hospital has been broken and construction is moving forward rapidly. Instead of trying to stop what already is in motion, Belleville might be better served by rebuilding its relationship with St. Elizabeth’s. In hockey playoffs, teams battle hard against each other and when the winner is decided, the participants line up and shake hands. In Belleville, city and hospital leaders need to at least be talking with each other.
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St. Elizabeth’s will be in Belleville several more years, and a continued strained relationship won’t be beneficial to either side. The city and St. E’s need to collaborate on what happens to the hospital property after the move. And maybe the city can persuade St. E’s to keep some services and administrative functions in Belleville long-term.
There is still time to create a better regional solution that addresses the interests and concerns from both sides.