Peru hospital closes: Nurses clock out of final shift to cheers, support from community

‘It’s not fair,’ employees react to the closure

Hundreds of St. Margaret's employees gather outside outside St. Margarets Hospital (formally Illinois Valley Community Hospital) on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023 in Peru. Hospital officials announced late last Friday their plans to suspend operations at St. Margaret's Health in Peru.

The nurses and employees of St. Margaret’s in Peru worked their final shift Saturday morning, exiting the hospital into the warm embrace of hundreds of family, friends, former employees and concerned citizens.

Nearly 300 people braved winter temperatures in the 20s Saturday morning to show their support for the nurses. Each of the three waves of employees leaving the building were met with raucous cheers.

The hospital was closed 7 a.m. Saturday, making St. Margaret’s in Spring Valley, the closest hospital for many residents in and around La Salle-Peru.

Bonnie Bottenberg, a registered OB-GYN nurse with St. Margaret’s and IVCH for the last 21 years, said there’s been a mass outpouring of support for the employees following the unexpected Jan. 20 closure announcement.

“The support has been fabulous,” Bottenberg said. “Everywhere we go, we hear it.”

Bottenberg and many other nurses from the OB-GYN department left their last shift with signs made in protest. Her sign read “C.E.O = CUT EVERYONE OUT.” Other signs included one that said “You can retire now, Tim. You saw this through.” That sign was made in criticism of St. Margaret’s Health CEO Tim Muntz. Another sign reads “pro-life is a lie if you don’t care if women die.”

Most of the employees Saturday said they heard the closure announcement either through Facebook or local media. The email to employees announcing the closure was received at 5:23 p.m. last Friday, most of them said. Media reports were made at 5 p.m. Friday, after administrators confirmed the closure announcement to local media via a teleconference. Bottenberg, despite being an employee for so long, found out about the closure at the same time the rest of the community did with an announcement via Facebook on Friday night.

St. Margaret’s Health issued an apology Thursday for how it handled announcing the temporary closure to employees and the community. St. Margaret’s plan is to reopen the hospital once a Rural Emergency Hospital designation is finalized, but the hospital will need to to reopen before it can qualify. That designation is sought to bring more funding. Hospital officials have said its provider of emergency room physician coverage in Peru terminated its contract, effective Saturday, and the Peru hospital was not able to find, nor financially support, a new ER provider. A hospital must have an ER to open.

Bottenberg wants an investigation into the closure. The Illinois Department of Public Health wasn’t notified until Monday, and there are other procedures that weren’t followed, she said.

Korrin Holdcraft, who has been a CNA for six years, said employees were told if the hospital is to be reopened, anyone who wants their job back will have to reapply.

Holdcraft said the distance is going to be more difficult to overcome than people expect. St. Margaret’s in Spring Valley, which will remain open, is 4 miles west, but for some communities, OSF St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Ottawa will become the closest hospital, 17 miles away.

“It’s the closest for us in this community,” Holdcraft said of Spring Valley’s hospital. “We had everything and now we’re closed down with limited resources and limited departments. It’s not fair.”

Holdcraft said La Salle-Peru and surrounding communities are limited to one emergency room that’s 10 minutes away.

Kalie Sudaj, a fellow nurse, agreed.

“You can die a couple of times in 10 minutes.”

The closest hospitals for OB-GYN care now are Ottawa or Morris.

The last baby delivery took place on Thursday night, a C section birth that resulted in the mother and child discharged, nurses reported.

State lawmakers were critical of the decision to close. State Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, said Friday that St. Margaret’s could face fines based on how its closure was conducted, and state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said the closure lacked comprehensive planning. To the criticism, St. Margaret’s officials said they have followed laws of a temporary suspension of services.