Mercy again pushes for CL hospital

CRYSTAL LAKE – Mercy Health System wants an administrative judge to look again at its proposal to build a new hospital in Crystal Lake.

The hearing is the first step in Mercy’s appeal to reverse a decision by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board that twice rejected its plan for a $115 million, 70-bed hospital at Three Oaks Road and Route 31.

“There are a number of appeal steps that could be taken if somebody is unhappy with the decisions of the board – like Mercy is,” review board attorney Frank Urso said.

Mercy’s certificate-of-need application first was rejected in December.

The health system then asked for an administrative hearing, and a clerical mixup sent it back to the review board before the hearing was finished.

In September, the board upheld its denial on a 6-3 vote, saying that a Crystal Lake facility would unnecessarily duplicate existing health care services.

After the first denial, Mercy scaled back original plans for a 128-bed facility to 70 beds in the hope of getting permission to build.

Beginning Thursday, Mercy will argue that its project should have been approved by the board in the latest round of hearings.

The proceedings will be before administrative law judge Richard Hart, who was appointed by the state, and also heard arguments in the first hearings.

Whatever Hart decides, the matter still will go before the state review board, which can either accept or reject the judge’s recommendation.

“An administrative law judge does not have authority to make the final decision,” Urso said. “[The judge] has an authority to make a recommendation. It could confirm the board’s previous decision, reject the board’s previous decision, or something in the middle.”

Mercy Vice President Richard Gruber said the hearing before Hart is just another routine step in the hope of getting a green light. A certificate of need is required in Illinois to build or expand hospitals.

“We never stop believing” in the Crystal Lake project, he said.

Mercy has sought a Crystal Lake hospital for a decade. The health system in 2004 won approval to build a 70-bed hospital in the same location, but the project got caught up in a kickback scandal, and a judge ultimately reversed the review board’s decision. Mercy officials never were accused of wrongdoing.

Board members in July granted Mercy rival Centegra Health System permission to build a $233 million, 128-bed hospital at Reed and Haligus roads in Huntley on a similar appeal.

Mercy and other competing hospitals, including Sherman and Advocate, have filed individual lawsuits challenging the Huntley project.

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