Huntley residents rally in favor of new hospital
Michael Geheren of Huntley started shuttling his mother and brother to Centegra Hospital in Woodstock earlier this year, right when he got his driver's license.
Geheren's mother, Mia, and his 5-year-old brother Charlie suffer from several ailments and need constant medical care. And on a good day, it takes between 25 and 30 minutes to get to the Woodstock hospital, he said.
If Centegra Health System is allowed to build a new hospital in Huntley, it would change the Geheren family's life. They live within walking distance of the proposed hospital's site.
"It's very important to me to have this hospital here," Geheren said.
The teenager was among those who showed up early Friday to rally at the site, five days before the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board is set to rule on whether Centegra can build the 128-bed facility.
The board rejected Centegra's plans earlier this year, but officials are confident they'll get a yes vote Wednesday, pointing to a report from the Illinois Department of Health that shows 138 medical surgical beds will be needed in the area by 2018. Centegra is proposing 100 such beds.
"We feel really good because that affirms why we didn't modify our plans," said Susan Milford, Centegra's vice president of strategic planning. "This is the place where a new hospital is needed."
The crowd, composed of teenagers, Centegra employees, village officials and adult volunteers, sipped cocoa, munched on doughnuts, and held signs and pom-poms asking motorists to honk if they wanted a hospital in Huntley.
"It's great to see people that are supportive of their community," said Michael Eesley, Centegra's chief executive officer.
A new hospital means hundreds of jobs for Huntley and puts the village one step closer to becoming a full-service community, Village Manager Dave Johnson said.
Cheryl Meyer of Lake in the Hills helped organize Friday's three-hour rally. Since October, she and other volunteers have been calling residents from Huntley, Lake in the Hills, Algonquin, Crystal Lake and Lakewood to ask for their support.
"We're finding with the phone calls we're making that everybody has a story to tell," Meyer said.
Still, the hospital faces significant opposition from several other hospitals that contend the Huntley hospital is unnecessary, that patients already have access to quality medical care and that a new hospital would pull patients and doctors away from existing providers.
Christine Priester, a spokeswoman from Sherman Hospital in Elgin that has led the fight against the project, says she empathizes with stories like Geheren's that tug at the heartstrings.
Even so, she said, that is still no reason to build a new hospital in Huntley. A state analysis released last week backs her views and says the need isn't justified in McHenry County.
"It certainly isn't meant to be without feeling, but we just can't put a hospital in that area," Priester said. "While I understand their concerns, it just doesn't make good sense to do it. You can't make those kinds of decisions based on those kinds of stories. You can't put a hospital in every community."