Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle speaks on Oct. 18 about Provident Hospital's resumption of ambulance care at the County Building, 121 N. LaSalle St., flanked by county Commissioner Bill Lowry (D-3rd, left) and Cook County Health CEO Israel Rocha

Provident Hospital, 500 E. 51st St., will begin accepting ambulances on Wednesday, Oct. 19, for the first time in more than a decade. Cook County Health officials also say the hospital will return to independent financial sustainability this year as well.

"This is an exciting milestone and one that comes after a significant amount of investment and focus on this treasured and historic community hospital," said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle at a downtown press conference on Tuesday.

Preckwinkle touted Provident's status as a Cook County Health institution that sees people regardless of their ability to pay and called it "a vital community asset we should all be proud of."

During the press conference, County Commissioner Bill Lowry (D-3rd) also noted Provident's new dialysis and MRI centers, which cost $2 million apiece, and the establishment of the $1 million Provident Scholarship Fund for high school, college, medical and dental students, which aims to increase diversity in health care. 

Lowry said people deserve to get emergency treatment inside their communities; Cook County Health CEO Israel Rocha then noted Provident's reopened intensive care unit and expanded surgical capacities through a $1.3 million investment, and said the emergency department, which has seen $2 million in renovations and has only been seeing walk-in patients for many years, stands to see 2,000 more patients a year from now on. (The department currently sees 19,000 patients a year.)

Provident's expected in-the-black finances are because of its added medical services, Rocha said, adding, "The more patients we're able to keep, the more patients we're able to care for, the better our future becomes as a self-sustaining center of care." 

"It is an honor and a privilege to be rejoining the EMS (emergency medical services) network for carrying patients at their time of greatest need," he said. "We have long cared for friends and neighbors in communities across the South Side. They know that at Provident Hospital, we are a true community hospital, a trusted provider and a member of the community."

Asked about UChicago Medicine's emergency capacities — the University of Chicago Medical Center is halfway across Washington Park from Provident — Preckwinkle called both hospitals community resources. Rocha said Provident's investments in emergency care are responding to a need and said the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, has led to more resources for public health care systems.

"But also when we're looking at the University of Chicago, they're a very busy center. And there are still, when we looked at the transfers out of the community for the number of people who had to go from the South Side to other locations throughout the region for care, numbers we did not want to continue," Rocha said.

"We're really looking at the underlying disease pathology in the community, trying to see what is being served and what is not, and go into those areas that are not being served where there's still a greater need that needs to come to the community," Rocha said. "We're not just building a hospital to say that 'we're building a full hospital, and here are all the things that we're bringing forward.' We're sort of finding out space by meeting the needs of the community and being strategic. And for us, if there's a need in the community that's not being met, we hope that patients will come to us."

One of Lowry's top goals in office has been a new Provident Hospital building, which the county planned to build before the COVID-19 pandemic and leadership changes at Cook County Health scrambled those plans.

On Tuesday, Preckwinkle said again that plans for a new building are on pause, noting an exponential rise in the project's expected costs.

"We're going to expand services at Provident over the next several years, 18 to 24 months, determine what kind of services there's a demand for in the community and how we can best serve residents on the South Side and then proceed with the new facility," she said.

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