Illinois board denies Mercy clinic proposal

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mercy Health System will have some more convincing to do if it expects to build a new hospital and physician clinic in McHenry County, Ill.

Meeting in Joliet, Ill., the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board on Tuesday rejected Mercy's plans for a $200 million, 128-bed hospital and clinic in Crystal Lake, Ill.

In an 8-1 vote to deny the Janesville-based Mercy a "certificate of need," board members said they weren't convinced the area needed more hospital beds, according to the Northwest Herald.

Later Tuesday, the board also denied a certificate for Centegra Health System, which wants to spend $233 million on a similar-sized hospital in Huntley, less than 10 miles from Mercy's Crystal Lake site. That vote, too, was 8-1 in opposition.

Tuesday's decision comes two weeks after the board's staff released unfavorable analyses of both projects' feasibility. The Chicago Tribune reported that staff concluded both proposals failed to meet the state board's requirements because they would contain more beds than McHenry County now needs and because there already are five hospitals within a 30-minute drive of both proposed sites that have too many unused beds already.

Officially, Tuesday's vote translates into the board's "intent to deny" the certificate of need for the Mercy and Centegra projects. Both organizations will have another chance to make their cases before the review board.

"I was not terribly surprised," said Rich Gruber, Mercy's vice president of community advocacy. "We knew we faced an uphill challenge, particularly given the climate in this day and age."

Gruber said that in the last 30 years, Illinois officials have only approved one new, non-replacement hospital.

Gruber said Mercy would evaluate its options and decide whether to go before the board again. The board's staff, he said, will issue an in-depth ruling that details its objections.

"Until we see that, it's not possible to make an informed decision on what our next step may or may not be," Gruber said

Mercy has owned its 16-acre parcel in Crystal Lake for years. In 2003, it announced plans for an $81 million hospital and clinic at the site. The proposal moved forward before being derailed when the board overseeing its approval became embroiled in a kickback scandal that involved the Mercy project but not Mercy officials.

In support of the latest proposal, Mercy officials have said the need for a hospital in Crystal Lake is critical because that part of the county is growing so rapidly. Transportation infrastructure hasn't kept up with population growth, which makes access to existing emergency medical centers in the area difficult, they said.

Closer to home, Mercy announced last weekend that it plans to build a $6 million emergency department and clinic on Janesville's northwest side.

Javon Bea, Mercy's president and chief executive officer, said the Janesville facility would enhance emergency and primary care services for people who live in or travel through northern Rock County and the Milton area.

Last updated: 5:20 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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