On Aug. 19, more than one hundred healthcare workers, activists and community members gathered in front of Mercy Hospital on Chicago’s South Side for a rally to protest against its impending closure in 2021. Mercy is the only teaching hospital between Northwestern Memorial and the University of Chicago, a distance which spans 160 city blocks. Its closure would result in a healthcare desert for more than 1 million residents of Chicago’s South Side.
Trinity Health, the private healthcare system which owns Mercy, has been trying to sell the hospital since at least 2019. After speaking to the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services, a deal was proposed to merge Mercy, South Shore, St. Bernard and Advocate Trinity hospitals. However, Trinity Health would not deal unless the state agreed to cover half the costs.
In July 2020, the hospital’s administration announced that Mercy would be shutting down due to financial concerns. A resident at the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education told Liberation News that although her organization works to help move residents of the teaching hospital elsewhere, all other workers, such as certified nursing assistants (CNAs), nurses and attending physicians, would be left to fend for themselves. “This is one of the hospitals who serves the under-served populations of the South Side and all those patients who don’t have any insurance, Medicaid and Medicare. We are not sure what will happen to those patients,” she said.
Dr. Mehrdad Niroumandpour (DO), a University of Iillinois at Chicago Emergency Medicine Resident who rotates at Mercy Hospital, told Liberation News, “Mercy is one of the highest acuity hospitals that we rotate at. A lot of that is due to the fact that this population doesn’t have access to primary care and preventive medicine that they need. Now the hospital is trying to close which would essentially create a very dangerous environment for those patients.”
When asked how the pandemic impacts the hospital’s closing, Dr. Niroumandpour stated: “What I think is happening is the hospital is using the fact that COVID caused the hospital to not be as busy, which is something we saw at all of our sites. They’re using that data to say that this hospital isn’t busy and needs to close. However, if you look at all the data that came before COVID hit, it was a very busy hospital with very sick patients. It can’t close.”
Protesters held signs raising the demands of “Equal access to healthcare for all,” and “People over profits.” Healthcare workers emphasized that “Mercy patients deserve our care.”
Aviva Levine, a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and resident of Chicago’s South Side, stressed the need for Mercy to remain open. “Mercy serves over 1 million people in the South Side. The vast majority of these residents are members of vulnerable, marginalized communities that already face the disastrous health consequences of environmental racism, poverty, and policing.”
Levine continued: “Over 60 percent of Chicago’s Black residents rely on Mercy for healthcare needs. Shuttering this hospital, especially during a pandemic, would be an absolutely criminal act of violence against Black Chicago.”
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