By Phil Galewitz
BELLEVILLE, Ill. – Nearly as old as the railroad that slices through this southern Illinois city just east of the Mississippi River, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital has been a downtown bedrock since 1875.
Started by three nuns from a Franciscan order in Germany, the Catholic hospital still seeks “to embody Christ’s healing love” to the sick, the aged and the poor, according to its mission statement.
It is so tied to the city that when the local economy slumped in 2009, the nonprofit St. Elizabeth’s gave $20 to every employee to spend on Main Street, sending hundreds of shoppers out to the mostly mom- and pop-owned stores.
But St. E’s, as locals call it, now faces its own financial troubles, largely a result of the costs of maintaining an obsolete facility and of treating more low-income and uninsured patients from Belleville and neighboring East St. Louis, one of the poorest cities in the Midwest.
After a decade of losing money, St. Elizabeth’s officials are taking a radical step: Like a small but growing number of hospitals around the country, they plan to close the 303-bed hospital and move elsewhere.
They are seeking state approval to build a $300-million facility seven miles northeast, in O’Fallon, a wealthier city that is one of the fastest-growing communities in the St. Louis region with new subdivisions, proximity to a regional mall and quick access to Interstate 64.
Describing plans to leave behind some services, including a walk-in clinic, St. Elizabeth’s CEO Maryann Reese insists the hospital is not abandoning the city or the poor. Continue reading