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Travel times at center of Woodstock residents’ concerns about Centegra changes

H. Rick Bamman –
Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager reads a prepared statement for Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board members Marie Anne Murphy and Mike Constantino on Monday at the Woodstock Opera House.

WOODSTOCK – The difference between 10 minutes and 20 minutes can mean life or death.

Residents and city officials crowded the Woodstock Opera House to make that point at a public hearing Monday regarding Centegra Health System’s proposed service changes and suspensions at its Woodstock hospital.

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The most protested change is Centegra’s removal of inpatient and surgical beds from the Woodstock facility, essentially downgrading its emergency room to basic rather than comprehensive.

Six years ago, Woodstock resident Paul Lockwood landed in the hospital with a 95 percent to 98 percent artery blockage. He was close to having a massive heart attack.

“Imagine if this happened now in Woodstock,” Lockwood said. “I’m having chest pains and this time it is a heart attack. … I have to be taken to a basic emergency room, where I am stabilized, and then transferred to another hospital. Or they need to take me to an out-of-town hospital immediately. None of the situations is ideal for my well-being and survival. … The impact on an individual’s health condition and extended transportation time is huge.”

The changes come as Centegra faces $62.3 million in operating losses last fiscal year, which is $20 million more than officials had projected, according to an unaudited financial statement found on Electronic Municipal Market Access, a municipal security website.

“Centegra is acutely aware that the decision to change is often difficult,” said Barns and Thornburg attorney Dan Lawler, representing Centegra Health System. “Change is needed when the ability to fulfill our core obligation to the community is at risk. It becomes our responsibility to make those decisions.”

Many residents at the hearing said that the Illinois Heath Facilities and Services Review Board should work with Centegra and other health systems to make sure Woodstock gets its services back, regardless of the provider.

“The reality of Centegra’s current debt load makes Centegra’s proposal difficult if not impossible to oppose. It’s purely dollars and cents,” said James Mowery, a Woodstock physician. “As far as I know, Mercyhealth system is still trying to build a facility in McHenry County. … The planning board would have to use its influence to force the two systems to come together in some sort of agreement that would satisfy all parties and hopefully, keep Woodstock’s acute care open.”

Woodstock families who use the hospital services often were in attendance at the public hearing Monday, and they voiced concerns about increased travel time, particularly because of traffic on Route 47 and impending winter roads.

“My 83-year-old husband needs to go every two weeks,” Woodstock resident Marlene Botts said. “Many of these patients have mobility problems. [It’s] difficult [for them] to get around, and most of them are seniors. It’s difficult enough for people to get to Woodstock. Now they have to go those extra miles to Huntley or McHenry.”

The Botts have gone from traveling 8 miles round trip to 22 miles.

“Winter is a very great concern,” Botts said. “I feel this is an important service. It’s too important to remove from Woodstock.”

Travel times are affecting Woodstock’s first responders already, and likely will end up costing residents and the city, Woodstock Fire Chief Michael Hill said.

Since changes took effect, the district’s three ambulances have seen a nearly 50 percent spike in how often first responders must take people to either McHenry or Huntley hospitals, he said.

“It’s likely [that] in order to provide the level of service our residents currently enjoy, we will need to add additional ambulances and personnel,” Hill said. “Because we are almost entirely dependent on property tax revenues for funding, the money needed to pay for these resources will come from our residents, likely from an increase in property taxes.”

Conditions such as serious trauma, pneumonia, certain fractures, severe allergic reactions, chest pains and any condition that might require surgical intervention or an overnight stay now are not supported at Centegra’s Woodstock facility, Fire Lt. Matthew Hedges said.

“We also must determine whether a patient can survive that additional 10 to 20 minutes to Huntley or McHenry,” he said.

The review board will consider Centegra’s changes at its Nov. 14 meeting.

Legally, the board must approve Centegra’s completed certificates of exemption, which have to do with the discontinuation of beds at Woodstock and McHenry.

Certificates of exemption can be approved by the board’s chairman, or the chairman could ask for a vote, but the board cannot deny them so long as they are completed. Both exemptions were deemed complete in August, according to the facility review board.

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