MetroSouth Medical Center stops services

MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island has now suspended all services. The Illinois Health Facilities Services and Review Board is set to vote on Oct. 22 on the hospital’s application to close. (Review photo)

MetroSouth Medical Center isn’t officially closed, but the hospital in Blue Island is no longer open for business—at least for now.

Questions also remain regarding an agreement the city of Blue Island is exploring with MetroSouth operators to take over the hospital.

On Oct. 1, a spokesperson for Quorum Health, which owns the hospital, said that every patient had been discharged and all services are temporarily suspended.

The suspension came, the spokesperson said in an email, “after the loss of key physician surgical coverage and growing understaffing.”

After announcing in June that they had filed an application with the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board (HFSRB) to close by the end of the year if they could not find a buyer, MetroSouth officials later said they wanted to close by Sept. 30, as attempts to find a buyer were unsuccessful and staff began to leave.

The HFSRB pushed that date back last month by deferring its vote until Oct. 22 on approving the application to close, but MetroSouth continues to shut down services.

“Patient safety has been MetroSouth’s highest priority; unfortunately, suspension is necessary as the ability to provide adequate care in a safe manner is not currently possible,” the Quorum spokesperson said. “We appreciate the continued patience and dedication of our employees during this time.”

She said a limited a number of staff remain to manage necessary wind-down procedures. She also said employees who remained through Sept. 30 will receive benefits through October.

Several elected officials who work in Blue Island have opposed the closure for several months, but recently, reports surfaced about the city exploring an agreement with Quorum for the city to take over the hospital. In a statement, the city’s director of finance and administration, Michael Marzal, said Quorum agreed to pay Blue Island $2 million within 30 days, and the city would set aside $500,000 in tax increment financing (TIF) funds to offset costs associated with closing the hospital.

The city would then control the vetting process for securing a health care provider instead of Quorum overseeing that process.

If the city used its right to take all of the hospital’s land after six months, the statement said, Quorum would give the city $3 million for maintenance and security costs.

“The city sought to make the best of a terrible situation—a situation that was not in its control,” Marzal said. “As the [HFSRB] process for closure moves forward, the city remains committed to bringing a health care provider to take over the MetroSouth property to provide quality health care to its residents and to protecting the financial investment the city of Blue Island residents have made in the property.”

In media reports, Blue Island City Council members accused Mayor Domingo Vargas of agreeing to the deal without their knowledge.

Blue Island 3rd Ward Ald. Kevin Donahue, chairman of the city’s finance committee, was among the City Council members who criticized Vargas, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that Vargas agreed to a “backroom deal.”

Marzal rejected that notion. He said the city used a team of attorneys approved by the City Council in crafting the agreement.

“It was negotiated in good faith by the city’s legal team,” he said, “based upon their understanding of the mayor’s and City Council’s expressed priorities to develop a plan to address this very difficult situation created by the closing of the hospital.”

Donahue was unavailable for comment by press time.

Quorum officials did not provide comment on the details of the agreement.

The agreement has not been officially completed, Marzal said; it was “initially contingent” upon the HFSRB decision to approve the application to close, and while that has not been completed, the agreement can still go through if the City Council so desires.

MetroSouth officials said the hospital, which opened in 1905, is underused and in woeful shape financially.

For more information on the hospital’s status, visit the website at hfsrb.gov.