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Provident Hospital needs $52 million facelift to prep for U. of C. partnership, study says
County-owned hospital on South Side would require new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, other upgrades

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

by Bruce Jaspen

It will cost up to $52 million in capital upgrades at Provident Hospital before the money-losing county-owned hospital would be ready for a partnership with the University of Chicago Medical Center, a consultant's report says.

The Cook County Health & Hospitals System is studying whether to form a partnership on the South Side that would bring the academic hospital's physicians to Provident to treat patients and train aspiring doctors. Provident would benefit by receiving patient referrals and a marketing boost by adding U. of C.'s name and patient care expertise to the 119-bed facility.

If a partnership happens, the county facility also could have a role in the U. of C.'s Urban Health Initiative, which was designed in part to divert patients from the teaching hospital's emergency room, where medical care is more specialized and costly, to community-based clinics and hospitals where care is less expensive. Also, moving less serious cases from U. of C. would open up more of its beds for more seriously ill and more profitable patients.

Meanwhile, Provident's fate hangs in the balance. The hospital lost more than $98 million in its 2009 fiscal year, which ended Nov. 30, and some have called for it to close or convert into a facility that would be used mainly for outpatient medical services.

Provident's patients are largely uninsured, with just $31.6 million in operating revenue generated last year, hospital figures show. County officials hope a partnership with U. of C. would bring more patients insured by the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and can bring Provident additional revenue.

"Provident has a long history in our community and is an important asset for the South Side of Chicago," said Kenneth Sharigian, president of the U. of C. medical center. "While recognizing there are significant issues to deal with and overcome, we continue to be committed to exploring ways we can help the hospital stay open and keep serving the community."

One scenario involves a joint effort to expand current inpatient and outpatient services at Provident, the U. of C. said in a statement to the Tribune. The other scenario would have Provident "downsize to outpatient services only."

But before Provident does any deal with U. of C., consultants from Philadelphia-based Health Strategies & Solutions Inc. say the facility needs new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems as well as new diagnostic imaging equipment.

A conversion to only outpatient services would cost between $18 million and $27 million, the consultants' report said. The more expensive option would cost up to $52 million because Provident also would need a new clinic and office building, as well as renovations to its inpatient units and emergency room, according to the report.

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