Mercy Hospital's closing will create South Side healthcare desert, activists say

'It's a loss for us'
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicagoan Bertha Aguilar doesn't know what she's going to do now that Mercy Hospital, the hospital she's been coming to since 1993, is closing.

"We travel all the way from the Southeast Side of Chicago to come here because the treatments are good, staff, doctors are excellent," Aguilar said.

The closure of the Bronzeville neighborhood hospital, which must be approved by the Illinois Health Facilities and Service Review Board, is a blow to the South Side community it has served for over 150 years.

The hospital is slated to close sometime between February and May of next year. The announcement of the closure comes after the hospital tried to merge with several other South Side hospitals, but was denied financing.

The hospital hopes to pivot to an outpatient care center, but there are no final details yet.

In a statement, Mercy's president wrote the decision to close was not an easy one during this changing healthcare climate, adding "the transformation from an inpatient model to one with greater access to outpatient services will better address the disparate outcomes in health from which our community suffers today."

Community activists say the shuttering of the hospital will create a healthcare desert for African Americans on the South Side who already struggle with disparities in medical care.

RELATED: Mercy, Chicago's oldest, 1st teaching hospital, will close, transition to outpatient center

The closest hospital, Provident, is about 3 miles away.

"We're dying from gun violence, we're leaving because of lack of education and economic development, and now you are taking away our only access to health and wellness," said Deborah Harris, Action Now Institute executive director.

Mercy Hospital's fate was sealed after state lawmakers failed to set aside $520 million in funding for a planned merger of struggling South Side hospitals, which also included Advocate Trinity, South Shore and St. Bernard.

"This city, this state, if not in the memory of the people we are losing, commit themselves to making sure we have quality health care for Black people," said Jitu Brown of Journey for Justice.

The other hospitals in the coalition all say they have no plans to close.

Mercy Hospital has a storied history.

Founded in 1852, it's the city's oldest and first teaching hospital.

But for people like Aguilar, the closure of Mercy means change not necessarily for the better.

"Definitely it's a loss for us," she said.
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