St. Margaret’s last day in Spring Valley: ‘It’s sad. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s horrible.’

Tearful, angry workers depart St. Margaret’s

Joannie Janick hugs Gina Weatherspoon outside St. Margarets's Hospital for a gathering on Friday, June 16, 2023 in Spring Valley.

The parking lot at the Spring Valley hospital filled steadily after dinnertime Friday as workers completed their last day on the job, joined by throngs of supporters unhappy with the hospital closing.

With hours before St. Margaret’s Health-Spring Valley was closed for good, dozens of displaced workers, retirees and supportive residents steadily filled the south parking lot for hugs, tears and thanks. The crowd seemed notably smaller than when the Peru hospital was closed – the Spring Valley closure came less out of the blue – but the emotions were just as raw.

“It’s sad. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s horrible,” said Johnette Beebe of Peru, a retiree who had worked 20 years in various departments and left with many friends.

Beebe said she’s doubly distressed because the closure of a nearby hospital forces her to cast an even wider net for her medical care.

“I have primary care doctor is in Mendota, my ENT is in Morris, my bone doctor is in Ottawa and my back doctor is now up in Arlington Heights,” she said. “I’m all over the board.”

Former workers ranged from bitter to resigned when asked their reactions to the closure.

“Three years ago we were heroes,” said Sarah Anderson of Peru, referring to the pandemic. “Today, we’re zeroes.”

Sabrina Janssen, of Princeton, took a broader view.

“St. Margaret’s was great to us for many years,” Janssen said. “The last six months were rough, but it doesn’t erase the good years.”

Debbie Evelhoch, of Ladd ,has worked seven years at St. Margaret’s Health-Spring Valley and decided to join Beebe in retirement.

“I don’t want to go through this again,” Evelhoch said, hastily adding, “But I didn’t want to (retire). I really like my job.”

Kathi Bly, of Peru, another now-former worker, said she’s applied for five different jobs with OSF and isn’t thrilled with her odds. She said 84 posts were advertised to 500 displaced workers and she isn’t sure if she’ll be among the lucky fifth that finds a lateral post.

“There were a lot of tears last week,” following the announcement of the closure, Bly said. “We worked through COVID, we worked through the cyberattack, we worked through everything.”

Nevertheless, Bly expressed more concern for the patients. Aside from losing an emergency room, local residents will go at least weeks without nearby medical services, some of which dictate their quality of life.

“I work in the pain clinic with 700 patients and they have nowhere to go,” Bly said.

I came because it’s criminal what’s happened here. Not only are we losing our hospital, we’re losing our doctors – at least for a while.”

—  Rachael Mellen, of Peru

Their plight drew sympathy from throughout the community. Several taverns hosted block parties and free meals to displaced workers while area residents with no direct ties to St. Margaret’s turned up to show solidarity or, in Rachael Mellen’s case, indignation.

“I came because it’s criminal what’s happened here,” the Peru resident said. “Not only are we losing our hospital, we’re losing our doctors – at least for a while.”

In the south parking lot at St. Margaret’s, the Spring Valley Fire Department arrived with an aerial truck and hoisted a flag in support of the 500 now out of work.

“We as a department decided to come out with the flag and honor everyone who’s losing their jobs,” said Frank Filippi, a Spring Valley firefighter who said he plans to seek recertification as an EMT.

The certification will be needed because fire and EMS companies now are scrambling to trim response times – ambulance crews will spend twice as much time taking patients to Ottawa and Mendota as they had transporting to Spring Valley – and first-responders are under pressure to keep patients stable before the prolonged rides.

All of which comes with little guidance from the outgoing administration at St. Margaret’s. Communications with the public have steadily shrunk in recent weeks and ground to a halt just hours before the hospital was to close.

Linda Burt, vice president of quality and community services, issued a statement at midday Friday that St. Margaret’s Health “will have no official statement about the rally.”

“We are saddened by this outcome and wish our employees, staff and medical staff nothing but the best in their future endeavors,” Burt said. “We are hopeful that OSF (HealthCare) can re-establish emergency services quickly for our community. We are very appreciative of the outpouring of support from the communities we have served for the last 20 years.”