Ac­tivists to gov: Save Mercy Hos­pi­tal

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY ELVIA MALAGÓN, STAFF RE­PORTER emalagón@sun­times.com | @Elvi­aMalagon Elvia Malagón’s re­port­ing on so­cial jus­tice and in­come in­equal­ity is made pos­si­ble by a grant from The Chicago Com­mu­nity Trust.

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.”

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES PHO­TOS

Com­mu­nity ac­tivists, Mercy Hos­pi­tal em­ploy­ees and lo­cal of­fi­cials at­tend a protest Thurs­day to keep the Bronzevill­e hos­pi­tal open.

Etta Davis

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