Review board rejects McHenry County hospital plans

The Northwest Herald reports:

A state board made it clear Tuesday that its members don’t think McHenry County needs another hospital. The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board turned down separate requests from Centegra Health System and Mercy Health System seeking to build hospitals in Huntley and Crystal Lake, respectively. Both hospitals were told that the review board intends to deny their proposals. However, Centegra and Mercy representatives will get another chance to address the board’s concerns at a future meeting. The date of that meeting is not yet known.

Review board members, who are appointed by the governor, were nearly unanimous in voting against the two proposals. The board voted, 8-1, against Mercy’s plan and later voted, 8-1, against Centegra’s plan. Veteran board member Alan Greiman, a retired judge, was the sole supporter in both cases.

“We don’t tell McDonald’s you can’t go over there because there’s a Taco Bell there,” Greiman said before casting his vote in favor of Mercy’s plan.

The rest of the board members said they couldn’t back either plan as presented.

“I find it difficult to justify the spending of $233 million with the hope that that would somehow improve the cost of health care in this area,” board member Ronald Eaker said of his vote on Centegra’s plan.

Centegra had asked for approval to put a $233 million, 128-bed hospital near Reed and Haligus roads in Huntley, where it already has a medical campus. Mercy Health System asked to build a $200 million, 128-bed hospital at Three Oaks Road and Route 31. Others board members voiced wariness about how a new hospital would affect existing ones.

“I’m concerned for the other providers in the service area,” board member Kathryn Olson said.

Comments from the board mirrored issues raised earlier this month in reports compiled by Illinois Department of Public Health staff. The state agency reports said having another hospital in McHenry County would unnecessarily duplicate existing services.

According to the reports, Centegra’s proposal didn’t meet three of the state’s 17 standards. Mercy’s proposal didn’t meet five of the 17.

By Department of Public Health staff calculations, 118 more hospital beds are needed in the area, but the reports noted that Mercy and Centegra proposed adding more beds than that. The reports also found that other hospitals in the region were operating below “target occupancy.”

Despite the board’s initial reluctance, Centegra and Mercy officials said they would return to try to alleviate some of the board’s concerns. At that meeting, the board could decide to approve the projects or issue a final denial.

Officials from Sherman Hospital in Elgin and Advocate Good Shepherd in Barrington lauded the review board’s vote.

“It was the decision I had hoped for. The board was very thoughtful in its deliberations,” Sherman Health President and CEO Rick Floyd said. “It was the way the process is supposed to work.”

Mike Deering, a spokesman for Advocate Good Shepherd, said he didn’t see how the board could reverse course at a future meeting.

“I always use the example that if you build more schools in a neighborhood, it doesn’t mean there are going to be more children to fill those seats,” Deering said.

Since 1976, the review board has granted one certificate of need to build a new hospital in Illinois. That was Adventist Bolingbrook, which received approval in 2004 and opened in 2007. Sherman Hospital opened in 2009, but it replaced an older hospital on Center Street in Elgin.