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Mercy scales down plan for Crystal Lake hospital

Updated: November 4, 2011 7:38PM

Despite being rejected by identical 8-1 preliminary votes in June, the rival health systems that want to build new hospitals in Crystal Lake and Huntley hope they can persuade the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board this fall that one or both of their projects are needed.

But board members could decide that the Huntley proposal would be too big to avoid robbing existing facilities such as Elgin’s Sherman Hospital of their patients, while the Crystal Lake proposal would be too small to be efficient.

One of the proposals has been changed considerably. Mercy Health System originally had wanted to build a $199 million, 128-bed hospital and physician clinic at Route 31 and Three Oaks Road in Crystal Lake Road. But Mercy officials recently withdrew that request and notified the health board’s staff recently that they now hope to build a hospital with only 70 beds that would cost only $115 million.

The board has scheduled a public hearing to hear comments on the new Mercy plan at 10 a.m. Oct. 7 in the Crystal Lake City Hall, 100 W. Woodstock St.

Meanwhile, Centegra Health System has stuck with its original proposal for a 128-bed, $233 million hospital at Reed and Haligus roads in Huntley. Rather than changing the plan, Centegra officials say they hope they will be able to answer board members’ objections and to present more convincing evidence that the Huntley-Hampshire-Algonquin area needs its own hospital.

The board is tentatively scheduled to vote on both requests on Nov. 22. But an employee in the board’s Springfield office said that meeting likely will be rescheduled because some board members will be out of town that day.

In an effort to keep medical costs down, the state requires the board to issue a “certificate of need” before any new hospital can be built. Existing hospitals in the area — including Sherman in Elgin, Advocate Good Shepherd in Barrington and Alexian Brothers in Hoffman Estates — fought the two plans. They argued their facilities already have too many empty beds and that either new hospital would steal too many customers from them. At the board’s June meeting, eight of the nine board members agreed, voting that they “intend to deny” both requests when the board next brings up the matters.

Mercy Vice President Rich Gruber said Wednesday that the smaller building now proposed for Crystal Lake would benefit consumers by saving almost half the cost of the original plan while still allowing people who live in places such as Crystal Lake and Algonquin quicker access to services.

But Sherman Hospital spokeswoman Chris Priester said Sherman officials will point out that according to a long-standing rule followed by state health planners, new hospitals should have at least 100 beds each unless they’re in a sparsely populated rural area.

“With this new 70-bed plan, Mercy meets the state standards even less than before,” Priester said. “Crystal Lake is not exactly a rural area.”

But Mercy’s Gruber said the 100-bed rule is outmoded in a time of short hospital stays and outpatient surgeries.

“At their meeting in June, the board approved a hospital in Southern Illinois, across from St. Louis, with fewer than 100 beds,” Gruber said. “So obviously this is a guideline, not a hard-and-fast rule.

“With the change in health care, we can deliver the same level of service with a 70-bed hospital now that it would have taken a 150-bed facility to deliver in 1985,” Gruber said. “After a routine birth, a mother might be kept in the hospital only 18 to 20 hours now. In the 1980s, that was five or six days.”

At Centegra, Senior Vice President Susan Milford said her organization again will try to convince the board that the Huntley area can support a 128-bed facility without harming the competitors. She said Centegra has submitted written answers to three areas of concern that board members had asked about after the June meeting — “Has the economic downturn slowed Huntley-area growth?”; “Would a new hospital hurt the ability of the existing hospitals to provide a safety net (to poor patients)?”; and “Didn’t the University of Illinois’ Healthy Community Survey show that people in southern McHenry County already have enough access to doctors and hospitals?”

“Centegra Huntley will be in the true growth area of the county, and our service area will extend into fast-growing parts of Kane County as well,” Milford said. “The village of Huntley grew 324 percent between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, and McHenry County grew 18.7 percent.”

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