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State rejects Bethany Hospital proposal

Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by LORI RACKL Health Reporter

A controversial proposal to cut services at Advocate Bethany Hospital on the West Side was shot down Tuesday by state regulators -- a move that shocked and delighted community members opposed to the plan.

Advocate Health Care needed the state's OK to do away with obstetrics and mental health units at Bethany as part of its plan to turn the East Garfield Park hospital into a long-term care facility for patients needing hospital stays longer than 25 days.

Overruling its own staff report suggesting approval, the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board unanimously rejected Advocate's request at a Tuesday meeting, where well over 100 people turned out in protest.

The critics accused Advocate of "racial redlining" by pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into improvements at its affluent suburban hospitals while scaling back less profitable facilities that serve low-income minorities. The Oak Brook-based not-for-profit company is the largest health-care provider in the Chicago area.

"What they showed is if they stand up for their hospital, they can pull Goliath down," said the Rev. Robin Hood of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

Advocate officials called the hospital board's decision a "disappointment" and suggested that much of the community opposition was orchestrated by a labor union looking to organize hospital workers.

Advocate executives said Bethany, 3435 W. Van Buren, has struggled to fill its beds, especially the 44 devoted to pregnant and psychiatric patients. They pointed to the state's own report that showed other nearby hospitals have the capacity to absorb more patients if Bethany stopped offering these services.

"There are too many hospitals in this market; we're all fighting over the same patients," said Scott Powder, an Advocate vice president.

Most patients uninsured or on Medicaid

Advocate already scaled back emergency room services earlier this year as part of the plan to convert Bethany into an 87-bed long-term care center, catering to heart disease and cancer patients, among others, who need hospitalization for at least 25 days.

Powder argued that the conversion would be the "compassionate thing to do" for the people of Garfield Park, Lawndale and Austin.

Critics said profits, not compassion, were behind Advocate's plan to cut obstetrics and mental health programs at Bethany, where most patients are either uninsured or covered by Medicaid.

May still ask for cuts in future

Board members disputed Advocate's assertion that Bethany's psychiatric services were being underused, and they questioned whether the hospital has tried hard enough to drum up obstetrics business.

They also voiced concerns that the proposed cuts would put access to health care further out of reach for the disadvantaged.

Board Chairwoman Susana Lopatka said it didn't seem fair to make other "financially fragile" medical centers pick up additional low-income patients when a profitable network like Advocate means Bethany "should be the last hospital" to scale back service on the West Side.

Despite the board's decision, Advocate officials said they will continue to focus on caring for long-term patients, and they haven't ruled out asking the panel to approve the service cuts in the future.

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