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St. Elizabeth's to move new hospital to O'Fallon, Ill.; Belleville mayor not happy
HOSPITAL

St. Elizabeth's to move new hospital to O'Fallon, Ill.; Belleville mayor not happy

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BELLEVILLE • St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville will build a $300 million hospital in O’Fallon — to the dismay of Belleville’s mayor.

Leaders of St. Elizabeth’s, owned by Hospital Sisters Health System, announced Wednesday the plan for a new hospital with 144 private patient rooms on a 114-acre site at Interstate 64 and Green Mount Road. They will apply this summer to the Illinois Health Facilities Review Board, which must approve the plan for it to proceed.

They hope to begin construction by year’s end. The Belleville campus, they said, will remain a medical facility with outpatient services.

In December, Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said he and other city officials would adamantly oppose any plans to move the hospital. He called St. Elizabeth’s a vital part of downtown Belleville’s economy.

“I am certainly disappointed that, despite repeated requests, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital has been unwilling to meet with the City of Belleville to explore a modernized hospital in Belleville,” Eckert said in a statement.

At a news conference at St. Elizabeth’s, Bill Lyke, chairman of the hospital board of directors, called the current building “outdated.”

He said doctors are trying to perform 21st-century medicine in a facility that was built in the mid-20th century. The Belleville campus, built in 1954, cannot keep up with technological advances, he said.

“Our community and everyone who lives here deserves access to modern health care that is delivered in the most efficient manner,” Lyke said. “Unfortunately, the bottom line is that this building is obsolete and inefficient.”

In his statement, Eckert noted that Belleville does not oppose a modernization of the hospital, but it “does oppose it being done in a way that abandons the downtown Belleville area, deprives Belleville’s residents of the essential access to health care they have come to depend upon, and unnecessarily disrupts the commerce that has built up around this hospital.”

Maryann Reese, president and CEO of St. Elizabeth’s, said the new hospital will be centrally located and is only seven miles from the Belleville campus.

Plus, she said, renovating the hospital would cost twice as much and take twice as long as building a new one.

Dale Stewart, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, said at the news conference the new hospital would provide hundreds of jobs for the area.

But, Eckert said in his statement, “I am confident that the benefits lauded by St. Elizabeth’s (jobs, construction, continuity) can all be achieved in Belleville without the fundamental disruption to our downtown area and the Belleville community.”

The hospital’s move may not be a complete disruption to the area.

The Belleville campus will provide outpatient services, medical offices and support functions.

Reese said St. Elizabeth would seek “input from Belleville residents” to change its use of the current hospital. Its outpatient services would include a day clinic, physical and occupational therapy, radiology and offices for primary-care doctors.

The new purpose of the old campus will be similar to a St. Elizabeth’s project that opened in 2006. The organization built a $7 million, 30,780-square-foot medical office in Columbia, Ill. This outpatient clinic also provided radiology and physical therapy, but St. Elizabeth’s shut down the facility in 2011.

That same year, executives at St. Elizabeth’s said they were making plans for a new hospital in the O’Fallon area. They weren’t alone.

Darwin Miles, president of Miles Properties in O’Fallon, told the Post-Dispatch in December that he expected the Shiloh-O’Fallon area to become the Illinois “medical mile” right off Interstate 64.

Belleville Memorial Hospital is expected to open Memorial Hospital-East in 2016 in Shiloh. And St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare owns 111 acres close to the new St. Elizabeth site in O’Fallon.

June Fowler, spokeswoman for BJC, said BJC bought the property a few years ago “as a strategic opportunity for a future use, but we have not identified a use and don’t have any plans for the property at this point.”

She said St. Elizabeth’s plan to build nearby will not influence BJC in its future decisions with the property.

Belleville’s mayor said in his statement that he worries this move could be more related to “questions of payer-mix and service area than of maintaining access to care for those in need.”

In a phone interview with the Post-Dispatch on Wednesday, he elaborated.

A few years ago, he said, St. Elizabeth’s administration told him “that they needed to get out to an area with a higher payer mix, people with higher income.”

At the news conference, Reese said the new location will increase accessibility to underserved people and strengthen the overall safety net in the Metro East area, “because as we know, underserved people live throughout all parts of our region.”

Hospital Sisters Health System owns 13 hospitals in Illinois and Wisconsin, including facilities in Highland, Decatur, Litchfield and Springfield, Ill.

Tim O’Neil of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Tim O'Neil is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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