By Kelly Milan
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., and community activists held a press conference outside Mercy Hospital in Bronzeville on Tuesday to call on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker to save Mercy Hospital from closing amid the pandemic.
“This is a life-or-death issue,” said Jackson, head of Chicago-based nonprofit organization People United to Save Humanity (PUSH) and Rainbow Coalition.
Jackson addressed the $70 million the city spent to convert McCormick Place into an emergency facility that serviced only 38 patients, arguing that the money could have gone to Mercy instead.
Earlier this year, Mercy, along with three other South Side hospitals — Advocate Trinity Hospital, South Shore Hospital and St. Bernard Hospital — announced a $1.1 billion plan to consolidate the four hospitals into one new hospital. But the plan was defeated after the Illinois General Assembly did not pass $520 million in funding for the project.
The current plan is for the hospital to transition into a center offering outpatient services.
If Mercy Hospital closes, Chicago’s South Side residents will have less access to preventative care and quality service, activists said yesterday. With COVID-19 cases at an all-time high in the city, they charged that the closing of Mercy Hospital will cause irreparable harm to the historically Black neighborhoods most impacted by the virus.
“Enough with the platitudes. We need policies to support the humanity of Black people in Chicago,” said Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. “We cannot continue to talk about ‘Black Lives Matter’ and then we are closing a hospital in Black neighborhoods.”
In a letter to the Illinois Health Facilities and Service Review Board in July, Mercy announced the loss of inpatient service and high maintenance as its main reasons for shutting down.
Jitu Brown, director of Journey 4 Justice, said shutting down Mercy is an unjustifiable decision by Trinity Health, the $10 billion nonprofit healthcare system that owns and operates the hospital.
“Black Lives Matter means more than toppling Confederate statues and slogans on websites,” said Brown. “It has to mean the transformation of our institutions function in our communities.”
Brown also said that St. Anthony Hospital, 2875 W 19th St., and Norwegian American Hospital in Humboldt Park, along with two unnamed investment firms, may look to purchase Mercy from Trinity Health.
By November, Black Chicagoans accounted for 40% of the more than 3,000 Chicagoans who have died from COVID-19, according to a WBEZ analysis. As of Nov. 15, Chicago’s Black community had experienced the highest recorded death rate among the city’s four largest racial or ethnic groups, close to double that of white residents.
According to the analysis, 1,235 Black Chicagoans died from COVID-19, which is about 16.1 deaths for every 10,000 residents.
“If Black Lives Matter, then Black health care matters, too,” said State Rep. Lamont J. Robinson (D-5), who is calling for a statewide moratorium on hospital closures during the pandemic.
Joyce Ball, a frontline nurse at Provident Hospital, 500 E. 51st St., said in an interview with the Herald that the shutdown of Mercy will lead to worse health outcomes for patients.
“If they choose to go elsewhere, they might decide not to. They might stay at home and possibly die.”
The closure could also increase the burden on Provident, the nearest hospital from Mercy, Ball said. That comes after the county recently said that it planned to reclassify Provident’s emergency room as a stand-by unit with one nurse and one doctor on call.
Ball said that meant giving less attention to COVID-19 patients on the South Side who are already disproportionately affected by the virus, and that Provident is already transferring some COVID-19 patients seeking immediate care to Stroger Hospital, 1969 Ogden Ave.
Last year, Provident Hospital saw 29,000 patients, according to Ball. She said the number of patients they see will probably increase significantly without Mercy.
“But how can we if they shut our emergency down to one nurse and one doctor on call?” said Ball.
“They have no empathy for Black Lives Matter,” Ball said. “They have forced us to seek medical attention elsewhere.”
Kelly Milan is an investigative reporter at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @KellyMilan5.