After a recent patient-on-patient stabbing at Loretto Hospital, federal authorities are threatening to pull the plug on the hospital’s Medicaid and Medicare funding, and some West Side activists say if that happens, all of Austin will feel the impact.
The Chicago Tribune reported earlier this month that the hospital failed to properly search a psychiatric patient before he stabbed another patient. After the June 17 incident, the hospital placed another patient in the same room with the assailant, according to the Tribune.
Loretto’s Vice President Jim Waller told the Tribune the hospital is installing security cameras, along with other safety precautions. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services were scheduled to make an unannounced visit to the hospital two weeks ago. If the hospital is up to compliance, federal officials will lift their threat of cutting off funding, according to the article.
No one from Loretto was available for comment for this story by deadline.
Concerned community member Dwayne Truss said Loretto has had its issues in the past, but the substance abuse, healthy living and mental health programs the healthcare provider offers to the community is imperative, especially at a time when nearly half of the city’s public mental health clinics have closed because of budget constraints.
In September 1990, the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration, which administers the Medicare program, issued a 67-page citation against Loretto, detailing numerous violations such as unsanitary surgical suites and outdated medication, among other problems, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Truss said an incident of violence at the hospital “will always outweigh the positive they’ve done for the community.”
“Psychiatric service is something we are lacking in the community,” Truss said. “We do need to reach out to get people to understand that mental health care is something you shouldn’t be ashamed of.”
West Side organizer Elce Redmond said he wonders where Austin residents will go for their health care needs if the hospital closes.
In addition to Loretto, the closest hospital for those in Austin would be West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park. Redmond said the Oak Park hospital is now managed by Vanguard, and the “quality of service has changed” there.
“It once was a place they wanted to go to, and now that it’s owned by this for-profit entity, they aren’t really comfortable there,” Redmond said.
West Suburban Medical Center did not return AustinTalks’ request for an interview before deadline.
But after this story was posted online, a hospital official contacted AustinTalks and provided this statement: “West Suburban Medical Center has many loyal patients living in the Austin neighborhood who are very happy with the care they receive here. We place a strong focus in making our patients feel welcome and providing the best care possible,” wrote Vanguard spokeswoman Sonja Vogel.
Another option for health care would be Mount Sinai Hospital, located at California Avenue and Ogden Avenue, but that’s far from Austin, Redmond insists.
“Where would people go for emergencies?” he said.
Adult addiction and mental health services are being cut across Illinois, Redmond said, and it would be a struggle for Austin residents to seek treatment without Loretto.
“How can they reach those programs?” Redmond said.
The fear among community members is that the hospital will not be financially sustainable without Medicare and Medicaid.
It’s not only patients who will be impacted if the hospital shuts down. Loretto is one of the largest non-governmental employers in the area. As of 2009, Loretto employed about 500 people, 47 of whom live in Austin, according to the U.S. Census’ 2009 Local Employer-Household Dynamics data.
Truss said he hopes CMS will work with hospital to be compliant, instead of simply cutting the funding. Truss considers Loretto one of Austin’s “biggest assets.”
“Help (Loretto) correct the problems and work with them,” he said.