Ottawa City Council formally opposes OSF HealthCare proposal

Resolution of opposition to be filed with state facilities review board

Ottawa Fire Chief Brian Bressner addresses the Ottawa City Council Tuesday regarding the potential reduction of hospital services and what it means to his department.

The Ottawa City Council on Tuesday passed a resolution of opposition to OSF HealthCare’s plan for a new hospital and the associated changes in services that go with it.

The council said it did not hear from OSF HealthCare officials about any changes to its plans after the hospital group met with the public last week. The council voted 4-0 with one abstention to adopt the resolution and forward a copy of it to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board for consideration. OSF officials were not present Tuesday.

The Illinois agency will host a public hearing at 4 p.m.Thursday, June 13, at Central School, 711 E. McKinley Road, Ottawa. The panel’s next meeting is 9 a.m. Tuesday, June 25.

Commissioner Tom Ganiere, who proposed the resolution of opposition, told the sizable crowd in the council chambers Tuesday he and the council were in no way opposed to a new hospital, but remain dead set against seeing any reduction of services now offered at OSF St. Elizabeth Medical Center. OSF is proposing building a new $180 million facility across the street from its current location.

The proposal would move obstetrics and intensive care units to Peru, OSF’s new hub in the Interstate 80 corridor, and reduce the number of inpatient beds in Ottawa by nearly half.

Those changes are “unacceptable” for a town of Ottawa’s size, Ganiere said. OSF has said the move centralizes its services throughout the region, which includes Mendota, Princeton and Streator.

“I’m kind of surprised that we haven’t heard anything from them, thinking maybe they would once they heard the opposition to it,” Ganiere said, alluding to past council meetings and a public meeting at Central School last Wednesday. “They said then they were going to take a pause, but we haven’t heard one word from them, so we don’t know what ‘pause’ means.

“I did check the Facilities and Services Review Board’s website before the meeting (Tuesday) to see if the application had been withdrawn and it has not. It’s very frustrating.”

Ganiere said he expects other governmental bodies will be passing similar resolutions and hopefully that will “send a message to the OSF board that they need to rethink this, sit down with us and negotiate for the hospital that we need.”

“We have to push as much as we can,” Ganiere said, “because if they won’t come voluntarily and negotiate with us, the goal is to have the (Health Facilities and Services Review Board) say no to their application and force them to talk with us.”

The lone abstention on the council came from Commissioner Brent Barron, who did not vote because of a conflict of interest involving family, but added his disappointment in not being able to vote with his fellow council members, calling the plan “shortsighted” and not taking into account the growth of the community.

Veteran nurse Nan Stevens cited the hospital’s award-winning care, an A rating on a recent Leapfrog Group report. She said the number of inpatient beds would be reduced from 23 to 12.

“Where are those patients going to go? They’ll be transferred,” she said – and that the percentage of mental health cases now at 27% of inpatients could be increased to an estimated 68%.

Those figures underscored comments from Ottawa Police Chief Brent Roalson and Ottawa Fire Chief Brian Bressner, both of whom endorsed the resolution.

Roalson noted the added burden it will place on his department having his officers’ time monopolized by the security needs of having the new hospital’s emphasis on persons with mental health issues. He added that his department handled 67 such cases last year and each took about two hours to get the person evaluated and checked in.

“(Roalson) just came up to me and said right now that there are three officers dealing with a (person with mental health issues) out of the five that are on patrol,” Ganiere said at the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting. “Because of that issue happening right at this moment, there are only two officers available to patrol the streets in the city of Ottawa.”

Bressner cited the national shortage of qualified paramedics, his department is 30% short in that area.

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