Activists to gov: Save Mercy Hospital
A coalition of community activists and health care workers want Gov. J.B. Pritzker to create a plan to save Mercy Hospital and Medical Center before it closes next year.
Mercy Hospital is in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood, near Chinatown and Pilsen, and serves the Black community on the South Side. Without the community staple, Black residents will leave the city, activists say.
“We are very clear that the way you build community is you invest in the basic quality-of-life institutions that are supposed to serve the people: grocery stores, schools, hospitals, quality housing,” said Jitu Brown, an organizer with the Black Leaders Building Together Coalition. “You kill a community by divesting in those institutions.”
Mercy and three other struggling South Side hospitals announced a $1.1 billion plan this year to merge into a single health care system with one new hospital and a network of community health centers.
But the plan came apart in June after the Illinois General Assembly wrapped up a session without appropriating $520 million the hospitals were seeking to move the merger forward.
In late July, Mercy Hospital announced it would close sometime between Feb. 1 and May 31, 2021. Hospital officials said they will focus on creating outpatient services that will include diagnostics and urgent care. The group, which included area community activists and health workers from Mercy, staged a rally Thursday outside of the hospital before a caravan made its way to the James R. Thompson Center. The activists circled the building in their cars, blaring their car horns.
Activists like Etta Davis, who lives in the nearby Dearborn Homes and is a patient at the hospital, were critical of Pritzker and of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, urging them to step in and create a plan before the hospital shutters. Many also called for officials to invest more in other hospitals that serve Black communities.
“I want to know how those who could possibly save Mercy and other hospitals could possibly sleep at night knowing that your voice, your money or whatever it takes could have saved hospitals and other lives,” Davis said. “But you choose to turn a deaf ear and look the other way.”
Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for Pritzker’s office, said in an email the governor has been in contact with hospital officials to keep tabs on their closure timeline and to ensure patients have options to continue treatment.
“The governor will continue working with the General Assembly, especially those members impacted by this closure, to ensure there is equitable access to affordable and quality health care throughout the state of Illinois,” Abudayyeh said.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) called the closure of the hospital in the pandemic “criminal,” urging officials to work together for an agreement to keep the hospital open.
Black residents make up about 43% of the COVID-19 deaths in Chicago, according to the latest statistics from the Chicago Department of Public Health. People who identify as Latino make up 33% of the COVID-19 deaths in the city, the data shows.
And as of Wednesday, Black and Latino residents made up 75% of the positive COVID-19 cases in Chicago, according to the data.
Former Gov. Pat Quinn, who was born at Mercy Hospital, said, “If this hospital closes, and we aren’t going to let it close. But if it closes, it would cause great havoc, and people would lose their lives.”
Anudeep Dasaraju told the crowd Thursday that he and other medical residents chose Mercy Hospital because they want to work with underserved communities. He said shuttering Mercy would create a health care desert.
“We want to treat these patients, we care about these patients,” Dasaraju said. “We sit at the bedside with these patients. We stay here for 24 hours and longer with these patients to make sure they get through the night.”
Community activists, Mercy Hospital employees and local officials attend a protest Thursday to keep the Bronzeville hospital open.