Woodstock launches community forums on Centegra changes ahead of state board public hearing

WOODSTOCK – Woodstock city officials are launching a campaign to get residents to go to the upcoming state hospital board public hearing in response to Centegra Health System’s suspension of surgical and inpatient services at its Woodstock Hospital as part of a facilities overhaul to save money.

Centegra in June announced an overhaul of its facilities and services. The plan included closing its intensive care and medical-surgical operations at Woodstock. Centegra moved those services to McHenry and Huntley hospitals. The emergency department at the Woodstock hospital is now basic, which means people who need inpatient or surgical care will be transferred to a different facility.

Some services such as Centegra’s outpatient mental health program will move to the Woodstock campus.

The changes took effect Aug. 14 and some require state approval. If the Illinois Heath Facilities and Services Board denies Centegra’s plans, some changes would have to be reversed.

The board will consider Centegra’s proposal in November. Before that, residents will get a chance to weigh in on the issue at a public hearing from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Woodstock Opera House, 121 W. Van Buren St.

Residents and city officials have been critical of the changes. They said that the community needs comprehensive emergency services and health care.

“We are hearing [concerns] dramatically from residents,” Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager said. “It’s not just from Woodstock. It’s from people in the immediate surrounding area as well. We hear that concern. ... Although this is a private business, we need to make sure our residents feel secure and have a good quality of life.”

Woodstock called for the public hearing, which isn’t required by law. The city now plans to host three community forums next week to educate residents about the process, Sager said.

“We felt it was important to help our residents understand what steps and considerations the state board is going to make and take,” Sager said. “And how we can best put forth a message to the board. … Our ability and capacity as a unit of government, as a community, to affect a decision by a private health care business is negligible. … But at the same time, we feel a responsibility to look to the future.”

The changes could end up costing taxpayers and patients money because of transportation costs and the time burden on the Woodstock Fire Rescue District.

If a patient is taken to Woodstock for evaluation and ends up needing to transfer hospitals, the cost would fall to the patient, Sager said.

The fire department will see increased costs as well. Since the changes took effect, the district’s three ambulances have seen a nearly 50 percent spike in how often first responders must take patients to either McHenry or Huntley hospitals, Woodstock Fire Chief Michael Hill said.

“Transporting to McHenry and Huntley is up significantly since the change of service,” Hill said. “There is an impact to travel costs of course but when one ambulance is busy with a patient out of town, they are out of service and we don’t have an ambulance to cover the district.”

The department has three ambulances and typically answers 12 or 13 calls daily, Hill said.

Another problem is that first responders have to determine on the scene if the patient will need surgical or overnight care, which can be subjective, he said.

Centegra officials project the changes will save the health system $15 million annually.

The hospital system has mounting debt and ended its fiscal year June 30 with $62.3 million in operating losses, according to an unaudited financial statement found on EMMA, a municipal security website.

The losses are $20 million more than officials projected in May. Centegra initially expected losses up to $40 million, according to a filing with Fitch Ratings.

Centegra is McHenry County’s largest employer and officials have yet to announce total job cuts associated with the project. Centegra CEO Michael Eesley estimated 50 to 120 job eliminations in June.

Eesley said Wednesday that times are tough for hospitals across the U.S., and the system considered every viable option before making this decision, which will give a greater benefit to the most people.

“There are 30 communities in McHenry County, and it is not possible to provide inpatient care in every one of them. Our decisions helps the people of Woodstock to continue to receive their day-to-day medical care and emergency services right within their community,” he said. “Those are the services that are used the most frequently. ... By providing acute inpatient care at our hospitals in McHenry and Huntley, we give the most residents the closest access to inpatient services. Many specialty services will only be available in Woodstock. ... We serve an entire community, and must make our decisions based on every patient’s needs.”

Woodstock will kick off its community forums for the “Heal Woodstock’s Healthcare” campaign Monday.

Meeting schedule:

7 p.m. Monday, Woodstock Opera House Community Room, 121 West Van Buren Street

7 p.m. Wednesday, Woodstock Public Library, 414 W. Judd St.

7 p.m. Friday, Stage Left Cafe, 125 W Van Buren St

Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Public Hearing

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct 2, Woodstock Opera House, 121 West Van Buren Street

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