Community activists and Ald. Sophia King (4th) are calling for more transparency and input around the proposed sale of Mercy Hospital to a Michigan-based biomedical company.
In late January, the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board rejected current owner Trinity Health’s request to replace the hospital in Bronzeville with a nearby outpatient center. Two weeks later, Mercy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and said it would cease operations at the end of May.
Then, on March 3, Trinity announced that it had entered into a tentative agreement to sell the hospital to Insight, a biomedical technology company based in Flint, Michigan.
The Health Facilities and Services board must approve the change in ownership — last Friday, March 12, activists with the Chicago Health Equity Coalition (CHEC) testified to the board that they want any vote delayed until they can have more conversation with Insight.
“Our voices have been ignored in this process,” said Jitu Brown, national director of Journey for Justice Alliance and a member of CHEC. “Trinity Health Systems have not only been disingenuous. They have been pompous. They have ignored an activated community that actually risked their lives to save this hospital.”
“This has no reflection on Insight,” Brown said. “This has everything to do with the right of communities to determine how institutions impact their lives.”
“Black Lives Matter must mean more than a slogan on a website,” Brown said. “It has to be how policy is implemented. It has to be how decisions are made.”
The Chicago Health Equity Coalition is asking for Mercy to continue operating as a full-service public safety-net hospital, with community representation on the board and preservation of the full extent of Mercy’s care capabilities.
Dr. Ann Igoe, vice president of health systems for SEIU Healthcare Illinois, said she and her members stand with the CHEC and request the postponement of the transfer of ownership until the CHEC can meet and vet all potential buyers of Mercy.
“Now is the time for providing more resources to Black communities,” Igoe said. “For providing more healthcare services and giving more voice to workers and community members.”
Insight CEO Dr. Jawad Shah founded Insight in 2008 to provide clinical services and neurosurgery in Flint.
Nadir Ijaz, chief operating officer of Insight Surgical Hospital, the company’s 20-bed facility in Flint, testified at last Friday's meeting that the provisional buyer has a record of community-based work.
“There is an ample opportunity for reinvestment within the community and the facility,” he said. “Insight has always been invested in the community, working very closely with the city and Flint and providing opportunities and investment within the city.”
According to Ijaz, the Insight team has had initial conversations with community stakeholders in Chicago to develop relationships.
“The issues facing the patients of Flint, in many instances, are in many of those patients of Mercy,” he said. “There are also parallels to the demographics of Mercy patients and the patients served by Insight in Michigan. This is what made this part of an attractive opportunity.”
But Alderman King said at last Friday's meeting that she was dissatisfied with what she had heard from Insight to date.
“I am curious why this meeting was called with such haste,” she said. “I had to have the lobbyists from Insight inform me about it. Unfortunately, Insight and their team would not share much else with me.”
“We know that they are now managing a 20-bed hospital for orthopedics and neurosurgery. How this translates into running a 400-bed hospital, I am not sure. Perhaps it does, but more due diligence is needed,” she continued. “(Mercy) is hanging in limbo by a billion-dollar company and you are asking us to take Insight seriously without vetting them sufficiently to run that very same hospital.”
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board will meet again on March 22.