BRONZEVILLE — A coalition of community organizations scored a significant victory this week when the owner of the historic Mercy Hospital announced a tentative deal to sell the facility to a nonprofit that would keep the Bronzeville facility up and running.
Trinity Health plans to sell Mercy, 2525 S. Michigan Ave, to Michigan-based nonprofit Insight Chicago. The pending deal would have Insight keeping the 169-year-old hospital open and offering emergency room services, intensive care and other critical services for Bronzeville, Chinatown and other Near South Side residents.
According to a state filing, Insight would buy Mercy for $1 and the transfer of ownership would be completed by May 31. Should the deal go through, Mercy would seek to have its pending bankruptcy case dismissed and withdraw its application to close Mercy — a move already rejected by a state board but which was awaiting a final ruling this month.
The announcement marks a positive step forward for the advocates and neighbors who fought Mercy’s closure and demanded Trinity sell to another company that would commit to continue operating the hospital.
But members of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization say they will be watching to make sure the prospective new owners keep their promises to the community. Coalition executive director Shannon Bennett said the final buyer must be “held accountable to for making sure this hospital remains a full-service institution.”
“We led this fight,” Bennett said a press conference Friday. “This is our hospital, the hospital that services Bronzeville, the most historic Black community in the country and we want to ensure we had a service that is vital and thriving.”
Groups in the coalition include M.O.V.E. (Mothers Opposed to Violence Everywhere), Teamsters Local 743, White Coats for Black Lives, BYP100, and Mt. Carmel MB Church.
The coalition has battled Trinity for months on their decision to close Mercy after a failed merger attempt with St. Bernard, Advocate Trinity and South Shore last summer.
Shuttering the facility — which has one of the busiest emergency departments in the city — would have meant opening a huge health care gap for that part of the South Side, according to neighbors, elected officials and community leaders. It would have left University of Chicago Medical Center further south in Hyde Park as the main hospital to serve the entire area.
More broadly, South Siders have struggled with poorer health outcomes and disappearing access to medical care for decades.
UChicago’s trauma center closed in 1988. Michael Reese Hospital in Bronzeville shut down its trauma division in 1991, in part because UChicago’s closure shifted an enormous burden of care and financial strain onto the facility.
Those shutdowns left Advocate Christ Medical Center in suburban Oak Lawn as the only Level 1 trauma center close to the South Side for nearly three decades.
UChicago’s trauma center relaunched in 2018 after years of fierce activism from students, organizers and community members. Recent research showed the return of that service was improving emergency care for South Siders.
Trinity proceeded with its plans to close Mercy but its proposal was rejected by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board in December. State officials said they could not support closing a hospital that primarily serves Black, low-income patients in the middle of a pandemic.
In January, state regulators rejected another proposal from Trinity to instead open an urgent care and diagnostic center in Oakland.
Trinity’s agreement with Insight is non-binding and still being finalized, according to the Sun-Times. A representative for Trinity could not be reached for comment.
Etta Davis, a member of the Eugenia Burns Hope Center and a patient at Mercy, said Friday the disappearance of mental health services in the area forced a friend to go to the south suburbs to get intervention for her daughter experiencing a crisis.
Davis implored Trinity, Gov. JB Pritzker, and state and local leaders to help them not only keep the hospital, but expand and improve their menu of services to include more mental health support.
A public hearing on the move to sell to Trinity is scheduled for March 12. If you want to submit a written or public comment, email DPH.HFSRB.PublicHearings@illinois.gov by 12 noon, March 11. More information can be found here.
In addition to keeping the hospital open, the coalition wants representation on any future boards.
“We’re not talking about one seat or two, we want the community represented,” Bennett said. “We want our voices heard.”
The coalition’s next meeting with Trinity is March 9. Bennett said the group is feeling cautiously optimistic.
“Hopefully they’re talking right, and we can keep a relationship going,” Bennett said.
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