High-quality hospitals are vital for strong communities.

Local residents currently have several options when it comes to which hospital they can choose, whether it’s for an emergency or scheduled appointment, and ideally, it should stay that way.

Officials at MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island stunned the community in June when they said the hospital will close at the end of year if another operator can’t be found. If a new operator is secured, the hospital will likely cease being a full-service community hospital and will instead be used as a free-standing emergency department and outpatient services center.

Officials said MetroSouth has 314 licensed beds but, on average, serves fewer than 100 patients a day. The hospital’s pre-tax losses in 2018 totaled $8.4 million and are projected to exceed $10 million this year.

Several public meetings have followed in which physicians who work at the hospital, as well as first responders from around the Chicago area, said the hospital’s closure will be troublesome for area residents. They stressed that precious minutes will be added as emergency patients need to be transported to other hospitals. They also said MetroSouth is one of the biggest employers in Blue Island.

MetroSouth officials called their decision “immensely difficult and emotional,” but they have provided no further comment.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Service Review Board is set to discuss the hospital’s fate at a meeting on Sept. 17 at Bolingbrook Golf Club.

Certainly, hospitals are like any business, and if they aren’t making money, owners are faced with difficult decisions. Hopefully, the current MetroSouth operators are doing what is best for their business and the community.

Little Company of Mary Hospital (LCMH) officials recently announced that LCMH and OSF HealthCare, a Catholic health system based in Peoria, have “entered a period of exclusive negotiations, anticipating a full merger” in 2020. This comes after LCMH was nearing a deal with the Rush system before officials from both systems announced in April 2018 that the merger would not happen.

The community needs the LCMH-OSF partnership to succeed and for MetroSouth to find a new operator in the last five months of the year. That would enable residents, physicians, first responders and health care providers to breathe a sigh of relief.

Local patients must continue to have options. Lives could be at stake.