State panel rejects proposed Crystal Lake hospital

The Courier-News reports:

“By a 6-2 vote Wednesday afternoon, the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board refused permission to build the long-proposed Mercy Crystal Lake Hospital.

After a late lunch break, the board also expected to make a final decision this afternoon on the proposal to build a Centegra Huntley Hospital.

Under state law, new Illinois hospitals require a “certificate of need” from the IHFSRB before they can be built.

Mercy Health System wanted to build a 70-bed, $115 million hospital and physicians clinic at Route 31 and Three Oaks Road in Crystal Lake, to be finished in 2014. Centegra Health Systems wants to build a 128-bed, $233 million hospital at Reed and Haligus roads in Huntley, to be finished in 2016.

After a lengthy board meeting in June, the board had voted 8-1 that it intended to deny both applications. At that time, Mercy’s proposal called for a larger, more expensive hospital, similar in size to the Centegra Huntley plan.

Since June, Centegra has stuck with its original proposal, hoping that new evidence and signs of public support would convince the board to say “yes.” But Mercy submitted a whole new proposal, with 58 fewer beds and a much smaller price tag. During a public hearing in Crystal Lake in October, an approximately equal number of residents and hospital officials testified both for and against the new Mercy plan.

With one board member absent, the Crystal Lake project received one more “yes” vote today than it had in June. Board member John Hayes said he now believes “economic development is critical to Illinois at this time” and that the construction and medical jobs generated by the Mercy construction would help.

Board member Alan Greiman, who cast the lone “yes” vote in June, said he has become a Libertarian and “I think (Mercy) has presented evidence that the world isn’t going to come to an end if you pour this $100 million into the commerce of the county at a time when we have economic problems.”

But other board members said the hospital would have hurt six existing hospitals within a 30-minute ambulance drive of Crystal Lake — including Sherman Hospital in Elgin — at a time when these have larger numbers of unused beds than state standards would like.

They also pointed out that while the new, slimmed-down Mercy plan would have been cheaper and might have impacted the competing hospitals less, it violated a board guideline that all new hospitals should have at least 100 medical-surgical beds and at least 20 obstetrics beds.

“This is a certificate-of-need permit, not a certificate-of-want permit,” Illinois Department of Public Health Deputy Director David Carvalho said.

Mercy CEO Javon Bea complained that the requirements for a minimum number of medical and obstetrics beds and avoiding financial damage to competing hospitals constitute “a trifecta of barriers” to building new hospitals “that has done well to protect the turf of existing hospitals but has prevented residents from having free choice in health care.”

About 200 people, almost half of them forced to stand in the back of the room for lack of seats, attended the meeting, held at Bolingbrook Golf Club. More than 25 testified about the Crystal Lake proposal — some of those arguing that the Centegra Huntley plan should be built instead, others arguing that neither should be built.”