There will be no new hospitals in McHenry County -- at least for now.
Wednesday, the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board issued an intent to deny to Centegra Health System's proposal for a 128-bed hospital in Huntley by a 4-4 vote, which one Centegra official called "heartbreaking." Nine voting members comprise the board and board member David Penn was absent, due to a prior commitment, officials said.
Earlier in the day, by a 6-2 vote, the state panel said they also would not give a certificate of need to Mercy Health System, which hoped to build a 70-bed hospital in Crystal Lake.
Wednesday's decision left Centegra officials and their supporters stunned.
"I'm just very disappointed that the community lost today," said Susan Milford, Centegra's vice president of strategic planning. "It hurts pretty bad right now."
Michael Geheren, a junior at Huntley High School who rode a bus with 24 other supporters to testify at the hearing at the Bolingbrook Golf Club, was similarly saddened. His mother and adopted brother have severe medical issues that require constant medical care and he told the panel that a hospital in Huntley would be much more convenient than driving his family to the Centegra in Woodstock.
"I knew it was going to be hard," Geheren said after the vote. "I knew it was going to be a difficult decision. But I'm sure they'll try again ... it's just a little far away."
During the Centegra part of the hearing, David Carvalho, an ex-officio from the Illinois Department of Public Health, suggested the population estimates used to justify the increased need for hospital beds in McHenry County were overstated. Notables who testified in support of Centegra Wednesday included Huntley Village President Chuck Sass, Huntley Village Manager Dave Johnson, Huntley Trustee Harry Leopold and Pingree Grove Village President Greg Marston. More than 250 people attended the hearing and nearly 55 testified -- 30 for the Centegra portion and 25 for the Mercy portion.
The plans' detractors, meanwhile, were delighted at the board's outcome. Since the beginning, Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Advocate Good Shepherd in Barrington and St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates have united as one to oppose both plans.
Several of the board members who rejected both plans cited issues the trio raised about low occupancy levels in their hospitals and fears that new hospitals would cut into their own patient volumes.
"I think the board made a good decision," Sherman Health CEO and President Rick Floyd said. "There is no need (for new hospitals) and there are open beds in all the surrounding hospitals."
Wednesday's rejection encourages Mercy to keep pushing a plan for a new hospital, said Rich Gruber, Mercy's vice president of community advocacy. That two board members supported the project also marks a 100 percent improvement from last summer, when only one board member endorsed Mercy's bid for a 128-bed hospital at the same site.
"We put a lot of hard work and energy into this and you always expect a good outcome," Gruber said.
Centegra and Mercy have been here before.
Earlier this summer, the board rejected plans from both health care providers.
In response, Mercy scaled back its plan from building a 128-bed hospital at Route 31 and Three Oaks Road in Crystal Lake to a 70-bed, $115 million facility that would be $84 million cheaper.
But Mercy's new plan did not comply with the state standard that requires at least 100 medical-surgical beds in a new hospital for a metropolitan area.
Meanwhile, Centegra pushed the same 128-bed, $233 million hospital for Huntley that it promoted last time, but it provided supplemental information at the state's request that dealt with the area's population estimates, how Centegra staffers would resolve health issues in the area, and a study the three rival hospitals submitted that said the new hospital would be detrimental to their future.
A state analysis released in late November concluded McHenry County didn't need any new hospitals.
But Centegra officials were hopeful the board would consider a report from the Illinois Department of Health that showed 138 medical surgical beds will be needed in McHenry County by 2018. Centegra was proposing 100 such beds.
Now that the board has rejected both plans, hospital officials can either request a hearing before an administrative law judge in Springfield or submit another application, said Review Board Administrator Courtney Avery. The application does not have to vary from existing proposals.
Gruber said he doesn't yet know what course of action to take, adding that the most recent application process cost Mercy more than $100,000.
Milford said Centegra needs to "weigh our options" before taking the next step.