ROCKFORD — Mercyhealth pitched a plan Thursday to house all local COVID-19 patients in one of its hospitals as part of a plan to get state officials to lift a ban on elective surgeries at the three other hospitals in the city.
But the two other hospitals in town – SwedishAmerican Hospital and OSF Saint Anthony Health Care — have reservations.
Mercyhealth said in a news release that it has moved patients with COVID-19 to its Javon Bea Hospital-Rockton Avenue location. Doing so has isolated those with the disease, leaving its Javon Bea Hospital-Riverside campus in position to offer outpatient radiology and elective services.
The Illinois Department of Public Health has advised canceling elective surgeries to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the potentially deadly respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.
Mercyhealth has asked the parent health care systems of OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center and SwedishAmerican Hospital to join in its plan. That way, those hospitals could send their COVID-19 patients to the Mercyhealth Rockton Avenue location and reopen their own hospitals for elective surgeries.
"With two hospital campuses in Rockford, we have the capacity to move forward ourselves with this plan, because we can utilize each hospital for a different purpose," said Javon Bea, president and CEO of Mercyhealth. "But we are offering this approach to OSF and UW/SwedishAmerican to give them the option to open up their facilities as well for appropriate elective surgeries for the benefit of the entire Rockford community, if they so choose."
State Sen. Dave Syverson, a Mercyhealth board member, said he sent a letter Thursday to IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike and Gov. JB Pritzker outlining the plan and seeking their OK to reopen the three Rockford locations for elective surgeries. Syverson said the Rockton Avenue site would continue to offer other services such as those provided in the emergency department.
"It is a win for OSF, for Swedes and hopefully, Mercy," Syverson said. Elective surgeries are a bread-and-butter revenue stream for hospitals, he said. Mercyhealth would not benefit financially from caring for COVID-19 patients, as many are covered by the lower-paying Medicaid system, Syverson said.
"We’re hoping this is seen as a solution to get a lot of people back to work," Syverson said. He said layoffs at the three local hospital systems because of the pandemic likely top 1,000 people. More important, those "living with pain" whose surgeries are considered elective are anxious to get their hips replaced and cataracts fixed, for example, he said.
Mercyhealth’s plan was not well received by officials of the other health care systems.
"We are shocked and disappointed by Mercyhealth’s announcement today," Jennifer Maher, president and CEO of SwedishAmerican Health System, a unit of UW Health, said in an email.
"From day one, SwedishAmerican has been working in close partnership with the city of Rockford, Winnebago County Health Department and area health systems to have a coordinated plan to best care for COVID-19 patients," she said. "SwedishAmerican remains confident in our abilities to care for our community."
OSF’s statement echoed SwedishAmerican’s: "Today’s announcement by Mercyhealth was unexpected as we have been working collaboratively with the Winnebago County Health Department led Emergency Operations Center (EOC) as a coordinated COVID-19 Policy Group. We are all operating under Governor Pritzker’s executive order to not resume non-essential health care procedures until the order is lifted. We believe it is in the best interest of our communities to support the cohesive response through the EOC during this national pandemic."
The Emergency Operations Center, a collaboration of several agencies, including the Winnebago County Health Department, also issued a statement about the plan, saying: "The Mercyhealth CEO has chosen to act unilaterally without working through the EOC, the most appropriate venue for developing policy and strategy in this pandemic."
The Emergency Operations Center allows leaders of agencies responding to COVID-19 to meet together in one location while sharing information and deploying resources. But, the health department said, the "EOC will work collaboratively to vet the proposal thoroughly and are seeking authority to develop a plan that is best for our community and all health care providers."
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Sen. Dave Syverson’s title.
Georgette Braun: firstname.lastname@example.org; @GeorgetteBraun