Mercy hopes for another chance in Illinois

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Jim Leute
Wednesday, July 31, 2013

JANESVILLE—A staff report for a powerful Illinois board found that a hospital proposed for Huntley, Ill., would not meet state standards.

Yet the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board approved the $233 million proposal anyway, and now an Illinois judge has ordered the board to explain its decision.

The Will County judge's decision earlier this month could serve as a model for Janesville-based Mercy Health System to get another shot with the board that has three times denied its proposal for a hospital and medical center in nearby Crystal Lake, Ill.

In July 2012, the board approved a Centegra Health System proposal for a 128-bed hospital in Huntley, a reversal of an earlier decision to reject the plan. The staff of the facilities board found the proposal did not meet state standards.

Two weeks ago, Judge Bobbi Petrungaro sent the case back to the facilities board for an explanation.

In June 2011, the board denied Mercy a certificate of need for a $200 million, 128-bed hospital and clinic at its site in Crystal Lake. As requested by the board, Mercy scaled back its proposal and came forward with plans for a 70-bed, $115 million facility. The board denied that project in December 2011.

In June 2011 and again in December 2011, the board took similar actions on Centegra's proposal in Huntley, Ill., less than 10 miles from Mercy's Crystal Lake site.

In each of its rulings on Mercy and Centegra, the board had concerns about the effect of the new facilities on existing providers.

Mercy and Centegra officials appealed to an administrative law judge to review the board's December decisions. The judge recommended that the board take another look at both plans because of clerical filing errors.

It did, reversing its earlier decision on Centegra in July and upholding its denial for Mercy in September.

Mercy and other providers challenged the Centegra decision, which led to the recent decision in Will County.

Last week, Mercy asked an administrative law judge to send its case back to the full board for the same reasons that Centegra's case was remanded, said Rich Gruber, Mercy's vice president of community advocacy.

A hearing is scheduled in Chicago for late August.

Gruber said at least three cases—including Centegra's—have been recently sent back to the board for explanations.

In each of the proposals from Centegra and Mercy, the board's staff determined that neither project met the required criteria for approval.

Gruber said Mercy would like another chance before the board.

“This is a board that's reconstructed, and it's never dealt with anything in this region before,” Gruber said. “There are new board members and a lot of time and history since these decisions were made.”

Mercy officials have long argued that a hospital in Crystal Lake is needed because of significant growth in that part of McHenry County. Transportation infrastructure, they've argued, hasn't kept up with population growth, which makes access to existing emergency medical centers in the area difficult.

Gruber said Tuesday that the need for the Crystal Lake project has, in fact, grown.

“If anything, I think it's more credible now than at any point since we filed our first application for this project in 2010,” he said.

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