Activists call on Pritzker to create plan to keep Mercy Hospital open for South Side residents

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A coalition of community activists and health care workers want Gov. J.B. Pritzker to create a plan to save Mercy Hospital and Medical Center before it closes next year.

Mercy Hospital is in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood, near Chinatown and Pilsen, and serves the Black community on the South Side. Without the community staple, Black residents will leave the city, activists say.

“We are very clear that the way you build community is you invest in the basic quality-of-life institutions that are supposed to serve the people: grocery stores, schools, hospitals, quality housing,” said Jitu Brown, an organizer with the Black Leaders Building Together Coalition. “You kill a community by divesting in those institutions.”

Mercy and three other struggling South Side hospitals announced a $1.1 billion plan earlier this year to merge into a single health care system with one new hospital and a network of community health centers. But the plan came apart in June after the Illinois General Assembly wrapped up a session without appropriating $520 million the hospitals were seeking to move the merger forward.

Then in late July, Mercy Hospital announced it would close sometime between Feb. 1 and May 31, 2021. Hospital officials said they will focus on creating outpatient services that will include diagnostics and urgent care.



Community activists and Mercy Hospital and Medical Center employees drive by the James R. Thompson Center in downtown to protest the closure of Mercy Hospital and Medical Center.


Community activists and Mercy Hospital and Medical Center employees demonstrate outside the James R. Thompson Center Thursday for government help to keep the hospital open.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The group, which included area community activists and health workers from Mercy, staged a rally Thursday outside of the hospital before a caravan made its way to the James R. Thompson Center. The activists circled the building in their cars, blaring their car horns. The cars were decorated with signs stating “Fund healthcare not police,” and “Invest in Black health care.”

Activists like Etta Davis were critical of Pritzker and of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, urging them to step in and create a plan before the hospital shutters next year. Many of the activists also called for officials to invest more in other hospitals that serve Black communities.

“I want to know how those who could possibly save Mercy and other hospitals could possibly sleep at night knowing that your voice, your money or whatever it takes could have saved hospitals and other lives,” Davis said. “But you choose to turn a deaf ear and look the other way. Well, I don’t know what God or higher power you serve, but mine tells me to be my brother’s keeper.”

Prtizker’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Davis, who lives in the nearby Dearborn Homes and is a patient at the hospital, said there are more than 200 seniors at her housing complex and many of them depend on Mercy Hospital.



Etta Davis, a patient at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, speaks during a protest outside the hospital Thursday.


Etta Davis, a patient at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, speaks during a protest outside the hospital Thursday. The hospital is set to close in 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) called the closure of the hospital in the middle of the pandemic “criminal,” urging officials to work together to create an intergovernmental agreement to keep the hospital open.

Black residents make up about 43% of the COVID-19 deaths in Chicago, according to the latest statistics from the Chicago Department of Public Health. People who identify as Latino make up 33% of the COVID-19 deaths in the city, the data shows.

And as of Wednesday, Black and Latino residents made up 75% of the positive COVID-19 cases in Chicago, according to the data.

Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who was born at Mercy Hospital, said the battle to preserve the facility is centered around a fundamental human right to access health care.



Former Gov. Pat Quinn speaks during a protest outside Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Bronzeville Thursday morning, Sept. 3, 2020.


Former Gov. Pat Quinn speaks during a protest outside Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Bronzeville Thursday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“If this hospital closes, and we aren’t going to let it close, but if it closes, it would cause great havoc and people would lose their lives,” Quinn said.

Anudeep Dasaraju told the crowd gathered Thursday that he and other medical residents chose Mercy Hospital as a training site because they want to work with underserved communities. He said shuttering Mercy would create a health care desert for the area.

“We want to treat these patients, we care about these patients,” said Dasaraju. “We sit at the bedside with these patients. We stay here for 24 hours and longer with these patients to make sure they get through the night.”

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

26-Delivered

via Chicago Sun-Times

September 3, 2020 at 04:28PM

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