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Local hospitals might merge

Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Cook County's Provident Hospital could merge with Michael Reese Hospital, operating jointly at Provident under a plan being discussed by county and hospital officials.

Under the proposal, Michael Reese would close its lakefront campus. It's a plan that could have big political repercussions for county board President Todd Stroger (D-Chicago), who faced a revolt among his core supporters on Chicago's South Side when it was rumored he would close Provident.

But the heads of both hospitals said that the proposal shouldn't be seen as the community losing a hospital but as a "win-win" situation that would create a stronger hospital.

"We have to make sure the community retains these services," Michael Reese chief executive Enrique Beckmann said. "What we're facing right now is the potential demise of two institutions."

Provident, 500 E. 51st St., is down to an average of 67 inpatients a day and faces possible closing next year if the county can't increase revenue, county health bureau chief Robert Simon said.

Michael Reese operates on 37 leased acres south of the McCormick Place convention complex. Its landlord recently announced a plan to sell the land and evict the hospital, Beckmann said.

The Reese site has been discussed as a potential home for the Olympic Village if Chicago wins the 2016 Olympics.

Simon opened discussions with Beckmann about a possible merger several months ago. Simon said he and Beckmann have met several times on the issue and have had one joint meeting with Stroger.

Talks still are very preliminary, Simon said, but the leading proposal involves operating a joint hospital open to both poor county patients and Michael Reese patients.

"If you put (Michael Reese patients) in Provident and kept Provident open and put the county's contribution into the Provident budget, then you've expanded Provident's capacity from a community hospital to really a full hospital," Simon said. "It wouldn't cost the county any more money."

Simon said he would like to see a deal shaping up this fall if county leaders back the plan. Beckmann said Michael Reese is under immediate pressure and has to have a plan under way within a year.

The proposal is likely to rouse fears among community activists and unions who oppose privatization of county services, especially health care.

Simon said there's no model for how such a joint hospital should be run or how the county would keep sufficient oversight of the $84 million it puts into Provident Hospital annually.

Any merger is sure to mean more layoffs, Simon said, something county commissioners have been loathe to do.

"Who do you decide to let go of?" Simon said. "They (Reese) have a wonderful finance department. Ours is inept; theirs isn't, so maybe we should have them take over. But that's when you enter into the politics."



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