Despite some difficult economic times, the health care industry has continued to expand and flourish across the region.
The Illinois Hospital Association says the economic impact of health care in the suburbs alone is immense, with the industry providing nearly 70,000 jobs and generating about $16 billion annually through payroll, goods and services and capital expenditures.
Experts say there is a ripple effect from that, which contributes to the overall vitality of economic growth in our area.
AJ Wilhelmi, chief government relations officer for the Illinois Hospital Association, said there are hundreds of thousands of newly eligible people getting health care through the marketplace. With that huge surge of Illinoisans who now have coverage comes a need for more ways to care for them.
"People are more conscious of their health care needs. They're more proactive in leading a healthier lifestyle," Wilhelmi said. "I think that hospitals and health systems are looking for opportunities to ensure they have the capabilities to continue providing quality health care in an environment where there are significant pressures."
Partnerships and mergers have raised buying power, attracted more patients and created a larger pool of physician talent. Hospital expansions and construction of specialty centers have addressed growing needs in the community and ensured patients are getting "the right care, at the right time and at the right place," Wilhelmi said.
"The health care delivery system in the suburbs is very strong," he said. "There is a strong commitment to improve quality and outcomes, to lower costs and really be the hubs of health care."
Many suburban hospitals and health care systems have been merging in recent years. One of the largest proposed mergers is between Oak Brook-based Advocate Health Care and NorthShore University Health System of the Northern suburbs. Should the merger go through, the two will create the largest health care system in the state and will be called Advocate NorthShore Health Partners.
It is estimated that Advocate and NorthShore combined would serve roughly 3 million patients a year at 16 hospitals, including Good Shepherd in Barrington and Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.
Before announcing the intent to merge with NorthShore, Advocate also merged with Elgin-based Sherman Health Systems in 2013, which includes Sherman Hospital.
There have been new partnerships formed among providers of end-of-life care, too, as seen in the recent merger of Horizon Hospice, JourneyCare and Midwest Palliative and Hospice Care Center.
Other large mergers in the suburbs include:
• Alexian Brothers Health System and Adventist Midwest Health, now known as Amita;
• Northwestern Memorial Healthcare and Cadence Health, which operates Delnor (Geneva) and Central DuPage (Winfield) hospitals;
• Naperville-based Edward Hospital and Health Services and Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare;
• Provena Health, including Mercy Center in Aurora, & Resurrection HealthCare, including Holy Family Medical Center in Des Plaines.
As hospitals age, there have been efforts to renovate and meet new demands, such as private rooms, upgraded technology and other features to help improve efficiencies.
One of the biggest modernization projects is taking place at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital near Barrington, where work has been ongoing since 2013.
The four-year, $247 million project includes construction of a four-story addition to provide space for the hospital's switch to private rooms for all patients. There also will be a new main entrance, new operating rooms and technology improvements in various departments at the 36-year-old facility.
Other large hospital expansion projects in the suburbs include the $378 million revitalization of Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital and the construction of the new $233 million, 128-bed Centegra Hospital-Huntley. Both are expected to open in the next two years.
Other notable expansions include:
• Northwest Community Hospital, Arlington Heights -- addition of 200 beds and a new wing, $204 million;
• New Alexian Brothers Women and Children's Hospital, Hoffman Estates -- opened in 2013, $125 million;
• Edward Hospital, Naperville -- new 36-bed orthopedic and spine center, more intensive care unit beds, $63.7 million;
• Central DuPage Hospital, Winfield -- plans to modernize the neonatal intensive care and pediatrics units, $14.2 million.
Wilhelmi said one of the biggest issues facing the industry in Illinois is providing quality behavioral health care.
In recent years, there have been efforts to add to the number of facilities and programs dedicated to behavioral health.
In Wheeling, for example, counselors will live full-time at the Philhaven apartment building when it opens next year. The complex will house 50 units for the disabled, mentally ill and formerly homeless, much like the 39-unit Myers Place, which opened in 2013 in Mount Prospect.
People facing a behavioral health crisis who don't require hospitalization but are looking for a safe place to stabilize can turn to the DuPage County Health Department's new community health center when it opens this fall in Wheaton. It will include a short-stay crisis unit and offices for the National Alliance on Mental Illinois DuPage.
Other behavioral health developments include:
• Pioneer Center for Community Mental Health, which opened a new location last year in McHenry;
• Linden Oaks Behavioral Health Hospital in Naperville, which underwent a $4.3 million expansion;
• Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health, which moved to a larger facility in Arlington Heights in 2012.
As Baby Boomers age, more senior living and memory care facilities are popping up in the suburbs.
Autumn Leaves is perhaps the most popular name in the area, with locations open or being built in at least 10 suburbs, including Arlington Heights, Vernon Hills and St. Charles. Most recently, Autumn Leaves opened an $11 million memory care community in South Barrington with room for nearly 50 residents with Alzheimer's disease, dementia and other memory impairments.
Another new development for end-of-life care is the Alexian Brothers Hospice Residence, which opened in 2013 in Elk Grove Village. The faith-based center offers 16 rooms to dying patients who are likely to live less than six months.
Some other areas memory and hospice care providers are considering:
• Glen Ellyn -- Developers have proposed constructing a senior housing complex with memory care on Park Boulevard;
• Wheaton -- A senior living residence with 20 memory care studios coming next October;
• Wheeling -- Construction began this spring on The Whitley, which includes 34 memory care units;
• Lombard -- An 80-unit senior living facility with specialized care elements is scheduled to open later this year;
• Elgin -- New Elgin Memory Care center includes 24 apartments for residents with memory impairments;
• Vernon Hills -- The Springs of Vernon Hills, opening this fall, will offer a dementia care program to residents.
The health care field in the suburbs also has seen a great deal of development in specialty areas in recent years, especially for services that patients formerly had to travel to Chicago or elsewhere to receive. That includes places such as the Walter Payton Liver Center Outreach Clinic, which started providing specialized liver care this summer at Edward Hospital's Cancer Center in Naperville.
There also has been a surge in demand for outpatient clinics. Construction began this summer on the new $20 million, three-story Elmhurst Hospital Hinsdale Health Center, which will offer immediate and primary care, behavioral health services, imaging and rehabilitation.
Last year, the DuPage Medical Group opened a new building in Wheaton that includes a BreakThrough Care Center, where patients can work with health coaches, a dietitian, a pharmacist and a social worker. The building also has space dedicated to physical and occupational therapy, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology and primary care.
Other specialty developments include:
• A new Ronald McDonald House in Winfield and the first Ronald McDonald Family Room in the state at Edward Hospital;
• Northwestern Medicine Chicago Proton Center in Warrenville.
"This is a very complicated mosaic, but yet, at the end of the day, we are moving in a very positive direction in transforming the health care delivery system," Wilhelmi said.