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Centegra delays start on Huntley hospital

Hospital groundbreaking to wait for lawsuit decision

HUNTLEY – The ongoing lawsuit over Centegra Health System’s $233 million Huntley hospital has delayed the much-anticipated October groundbreaking until this winter, giving Centegra’s competitors a short-term victory in their battle to halt the project.

But the victory might not last long. Centegra will head back to Will County Circuit Court on Nov. 12 to hear Judge Bobbi Petrungaro’s final decision on the lawsuit initiated by competitors Mercy Health System, Advocate Health Care and Sherman Health.

Centegra Chief Executive Mike Eesley and General Counsel Aaron Shepley both expressed confidence that the Huntley hospital project would withstand the legal challenge.

With a final court date now known, Centegra pushed back its Oct. 23 groundbreaking to late December or early January as a precaution – months after the lawsuit would be put to rest, Eesley said.

“We didn’t want to put the groundbreaking in front of anybody when we were unable to literally break ground,” Eesley said.

Throughout this year, Centegra has unveiled design plans for its 128-bed acute care hospital, as they made their way through the majority of Huntley’s planning process.

Centegra officials have maintained that the ongoing lawsuit with the health system’s competitors would not deter them from constructing the multimillion-dollar hospital.

Eesley told the Northwest Herald that the groundbreaking delay is not a sign that Centegra is feeling uneasy about the project.

“Absolutely not. We have known all along that [the lawsuit] is more of a nuisance for us. It’s an issue of our competing health systems trying to slow us down,” Eesley said.

“We all anticipated that this would be a moot issue at the end of the day. But we also have to time it accordingly,” he said. “There is no use exciting the community about breaking ground when we know there are going to be further delays.”

The groundbreaking would be a symbolic next step for Centegra, which has tried since 2010 to construct its third McHenry County hospital within the growing area of Huntley.

Centegra withstood two rejections from the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board before the state panel on health care reversed course and approved the project in July 2012.

Centegra’s competitors filed suit seeking an appeal of the decision.

Late last month, the health and facilities board answered Petrungaro’s request for further explanation on its reversal. The state board detailed how Centegra met the majority of the board’s criteria for approval.

Shepley said the board’s response overwhelmingly expressed the benefits of a hospital in Huntley. Administrative bodies such as the health facilities board often have “broad discretion” on decisions regarding community hospitals, he said.

“Courts are very reluctant to overturn what they have done,” Shepley said. “[The board] made it absolutely clear that their decision was a sound one and that it will withstand the legal challenge.”

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