Letters to the Editor

What will St. Elizabeth’s do with their Belleville property?

What will happen to the current St. Elizabeth’s facility and accompanying property in Belleville when the hospital moves to its new location in O’Fallon? I have been asked this question several times as people wonder what will happen to the current physical facilities of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Will the current hospital be torn down? Is there a specific plan for maintaining health care facilities in the area? Will there be access to health care in downtown Belleville? Is St. Elizabeth’s willing to work with local community leaders and residents to repurpose the facility? What, if any, financial commitments will St. Elizabeth’s make to repurpose the facility? When will St. Elizabeth’s begin to engage with community leaders to discuss the future of the Belleville hospital location? Unfortunately, I have not been able to answer these questions because St. Elizabeth’s and the Hospital Sisters Health System have only put forward extremely vague and uncertain proposals for the current Belleville hospital property.

St Elizabeth’s was recently granted permission by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to build a new hospital in the O’Fallon area. Vague references have been made by the hospital regarding the continuation of limited health care availability in Belleville and the repurposing of the current site. The City of Belleville has subsequently filed a legal action indicating that the determination by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, which allowed St. Elizabeth’s to move its facilities to O’Fallon, was erroneous and contrary to Illinois law. St. Elizabeth’s has begun construction of the new hospital while Belleville processes its legal appeal.

I am extremely concerned about the future use of the current St. Elizabeth’s property in Belleville and I believe that St. Elizabeth’s has an obligation to ensure that the area is re purposed for a use that is consistent with the wishes of the local community and neighborhood.

Soon after the hospital was given permission to move to O’Fallon a member of the leadership of the Hospital Sisters Health System, which owns St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, approached me in my Springfield office and requested that I attempt to establish a meeting with the mayor and the city officials of Belleville. At that time, I indicated a willingness to work with all of the parties to attempt to come up with a consensus as to the future use of the Belleville property, the financial responsibility of St. Elizabeth’s, while ensuring that there would be access to health care in the Belleville area.

Subsequently, the mayor and the city fathers have expressed a willingness to sit down with St. Elizabeth’s to discuss the repurposing of the Belleville property. I made that clear to the principals of Sisters Health Care System, but they now have refused to meet to discuss the future of the Belleville property. Unfortunately, their current position is that prior to discussing the future of the Belleville property, and any subsequent financial commitment from St. Elizabeth’s, the city would have to dismiss any legal action that is currently in front of the courts. In other words, the hospital system is utilizing the possible repurposing and cleanup of St. Elizabeth’s site as a hammer to mandate dismissal of any rights that the City of Belleville is seeking before the court system.

I find St. Elizabeth’s position unconscionable. I believe that they have an obligation to the citizens of Belleville, and the surrounding neighborhoods in particular, to make sure that the property is presentable, usable, safe and that access to health care is maintained. At the very least, they should be willing to discuss a possible solution for the area that is consistent with local leaders’ input and wishes.

St. Elizabeth’s should not simply walk away from a fruitful discussion by making unreasonable demands. They have a moral and ethical obligation to work with the city that has been a faithful host to the hospital for so many years. I urge the Hospital Sisters Health System and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital to rethink their position and not turn their backs on the very people who have supported this institution for decades.