HAMMOND, Ind. — A Northwest Indiana hospital must keep its emergency room open past the end of the year after a judge sided with the City of Hammond.
The hospital was days away from closing its doors, an announcement made in early November when a judge ordered the hospital to keep its emergency services operational for another nine months.
Lake Superior Judge Bruce Parent granted the preliminary injunction on Dec. 22 that Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. sought against Franciscan Health Hammond, commonly known as St. Margaret’s Hospital.
In the complaint filed on Dec. 19, the city argued that Franciscan Alliance broke a promise 18 months ago, where it vowed to provide around-the-clock medical services while downsizing the hospital.
“On June 10, 2021, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Franciscan Alliance, Kevin Leahy, sent an email to the Mayor of Hammond, Thomas M. McDermott, Jr., reiterating the promises made in May of 2021 and promised the City that while Franciscan Health Hammond would not remain as a full-service hospital, the emergency department would continue to offer critical emergency room services to City residents,” the complaint read.
In the request for emergency injunctive relief, McDermott also added, “However, on November 3, 2022, suddenly and without any notice, Franciscan Alliance advised the City that it was not only closing Franciscan Health Hammond but that it would renege on its promise to keep the emergency department open for City residents and the city fire department and close its facility on Dec. 31, 2022, a mere 58 days later.”
McDermott told WGN the hospital closing its doors to the emergency room would have devastating impacts on the Hammond community and beyond.
“People will die. I’m not the type of person who just throws that around. People will die and the leadership of this religious institution know that they know it’s a cost-cutting move that will have an impact on people’s lives and they just don’t care, and it’s very sad,” McDermott said.
He noted, there has been around 28,000 ambulance runs in Hammond to the emergency room at Franciscan Health Hammond in the last five years.
“Those 28,000 ambulance runs aren’t going away. They’re just going to go to other hospitals and overcrowd them,” McDermott said. “Obviously if this emergency room were allowed to shut down you know, going against what the judge’s order was, it would have a profound impact on response times by my fire department and people living in proximity to this hospital.”
In a response to the preliminary injunction granted by a judge in favor of the city, Franciscan Alliance filed a motion Wednesday, which a judge denied one day later, asking the mandate requiring it to remain open for emergency services past Dec. 31, be lifted.
Barbara Anderson, interim president of Franciscan Health Hammond said, “It is impossible for Franciscan to comply with the Preliminary Injunction, and the Preliminary Injunction puts patients at substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.”
Anderson argued in the filing, “forcing the Emergency Department to stay open is both dangerous and unlawful” and said as of Dec. 31 the hospital will be physically unable to provide services, including on-site laboratory and pharmacy, radiology, surgical services, wound care services and more, due to the hospital’s license expiring at the end of the year.
The judge told Franciscan it must take all necessary steps to ensure the facility remains licensed and operational.
According to the motion, Anderson said the city has not been harmed and added, “Hammond is in no worse position now than it would have been if Franciscan had chosen in May of 2021 to close the entire hospital. There are two full-service, acute-care hospitals located closer to many areas of Hammond than the Hospital… Hammond residents have had and will continue to have ample access to emergency care irrespective of the Hospital’s closure.”
In the court documents filed Wednesday, Anderson requested a judge rule on Franciscan’s Motion for Stay be “imminent, and if not forthcoming by Dec. 29, 2022, Franciscan will have no choice but to seek emergency relief from the appellate court.”
A judge denied the motion Thursday afternoon and Franciscan Alliance subsequently filed a motion, requesting a new judge.
“What happens if I have an ambulance in Munster waiting on a patient in Munster and someone in this neighborhood has a heart attack? They’re going to die,” McDermott said.
McDermott argued, the hospital closing its emergency room doors, would cause challenges for not only the Hammond community but others, including nearby Calumet City.
“I think for the Mayor of Calumet City this is even more urgent because as the Mayor of Hammond, there’s multiple hospitals that serve my city, but Calumet City, this is their hospital,” McDermott said.
Calumet City resident Burl Flenorl said he is concerned about the impact closing emergency services at Franciscan Health Hammond, would have, especially for young people and elderly residents.
“If the kids get hurt, COVID, where are they gonna go? They’re gonna have to go all the way to the City of Chicago or all the way over into Indiana? That’s ridiculous,” Flenorl said. “We need that hospital.”
McDermott and Flenorl shared the same concerns over the impacts closing off access to emergency services at this location could have, especially for people who may not have the financial ability to access other healthcare options as easily.
“It’s emblematic of the broken healthcare system in America, in my opinion. This is a multi-billion-dollar corporation that pays no taxes because it’s religious and their mission at St. Margaret’s here, Franciscan Health, is to aid the poor and yet, that’s precisely the reason they’re trying to leave,” McDermott said. “I’m not blaming them, but I’m upset about this obviously. It’s more emblematic of a broken healthcare system in our country.”
“That hospital is the preventative medicine that is gonna let us live one more day, or one more week, or one more year, to be able to help somebody else because we are all here for a purpose,” Flenorl said.
In the judge’s order granting the preliminary injunction, Parent stated it is unlikely the city would be granted an extension beyond nine months, instead instructing it to immediately “undertake all necessary efforts to obtain an emergency medical provider for the citizens of Hammond.”