Centegra Health System’s plans for its Woodstock hospital were front and center at a hearing before a state regulatory board at the Woodstock Opera House Oct. 2.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board held the hearing to gather testimony about four applications from Centegra to eliminate or shift services at its hospitals in Woodstock, McHenry and Huntley.
For nearly all of the several hundred who attended, the key part of the hearing was on an application to permanently discontinue 60 medical-surgical beds and 12 intensive care beds at Centegra Hospital-Woodstock. Five operating rooms would close, too.
“Residents have an overwhelming sense of abandonment and betrayal and have responded loudly and consistently with their displeasure,” Mayor Brian Sager said in his remarks to the board. “The response was not solely generated from a sense of betrayal, however. It was also motivated by a sense of fear. … When people are fearful, they often respond in anger. Unfortunately, that is the tenor of today’s Woodstock.”
In August, Centegra suspended most inpatient and surgical care at its Woodstock hospital. Centegra officials have said the move will streamline its services while stabilizing its finances, which they said have taken a hit from bad debt and decreasing reimbursements. The health system reportedly had operating losses of $62.3 million in the last fiscal year, and it recently announced layoffs.
“Centegra is acutely aware that the decision to change is often difficult. Change is needed when the ability to fulfill our core obligation to the community is at risk. It then becomes our responsibility to make those difficult decisions,” said Dan Lawler, an attorney who represented the health system. He was the only person to speak in Centegra’s favor during the main hearing session.
Those opposed to the plans mostly cited concerns over quick access to inpatient care or a comprehensive emergency department, or said they were worried about the impact to the local economy. Others urged state regulators to permit another hospital to open, or asked that Centegra allow its Woodstock facility to spin off.
“Maybe we should just get rid of Centegra and reclaim our Memorial Hospital, and go back to being maybe not as glitzy as they were when they got too big for their britches,” said Karen Stahlecker, whose late father was a physician at the former Memorial before it became part of Centegra.
Lt. Matthew Hedges of the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District said the extra time it takes for ambulances to transport patients to other towns is taking a toll. Centegra continues to operate a basic ER in Woodstock, but patients need to be taken elsewhere for more comprehensive services.
“Our paramedics will now be required to evaluate if our patients can survive the additional 10 minutes of transport time to McHenry or Huntley,” Hedges said.
Paul Laudick, the former CEO of Centegra Health System, addressed the board to say he is concerned about how Centegra’s current leadership has enacted changes in Woodstock.
“I understand with the $60 million deficit, there’s going to be some real tough decisions that have to be made, but by God, involve the people who are being affected by the decision, not a handful of individuals,” said Laudick, who retired from Centegra in 2002.
The board is effectively guaranteed to approve Centegra’s plans to discontinue beds in Woodstock because it does not have the authority to reject it.
Centegra CEO Michael Eesley wrote in a newsletter to employees that testimony at the Oct. 2 hearing could not change the outcome of that particular application but said it could impact the board’s decision on other parts of its overall plan. Public officials have said opposing the application to discontinue beds could help convince state regulators to allow another provider to enter the Woodstock market.
In addition to cutting beds in Woodstock, the board also listened to testimony about plans to open 22 rehabilitation beds in Woodstock and discontinue 22 in McHenry, and to convert four medical-surgical beds to ICU beds in Huntley. Only Sager and Lawler spoke on those applications, with Sager saying the city supports bringing rehab beds to Woodstock and that it has no position on the other plans.
The board will vote on Centegra’s applications at a meeting Tuesday, Nov. 14.