ON LIFE SUPPORT?: Rep. Camille Y. Lilly says that Loretto Hospital could close as a result of proposed Medicaid funding changes. | Submitted photo

State Rep. Camille Lilly says a proposal being considered to change Medicaid funding to Illinois hospitals jeopardizes the future of one of Austin’s biggest employers.

Greg Miller, CEO and president of Loretto Hospital, says Medicaid does not provide enough funding for the patients who need it, and to decrease funding as is proposed would only make it worse.

Medicaid patients make up 68 percent of the in-patient stays at Loretto, Miller said. Loretto serves about 33,000 patients per year according to its website.

“The healthcare disparities in our community are terrible,” Miller told about 30 people who gathered last Thursday at Loretto for the New Year’s Clergy Council breakfast.

“Just a 20-minute drive into the city from Austin to the Gold Coast is a 20-year difference in life expectancy. Loretto is the only entity taking care of this community,” Miller said.

Miller became the CEO of Loretto in November and has big plans for the hospital, including adding open MRI technology and a new dialysis unit as well as introducing PET scans. That would make the facility the only safety-net hospital in Illinois to offer PET scans, officials say.

With Medicaid making up most of the hospital’s budget, the possible decrease in funds means these upgrade would not be possible and could cause the hospital to close. Other Chicago hospitals also warn they could close depending on how this funding shakes out, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

State lawmakers will be meeting this month to work on updating the way money is distributed from a funding pool that so-called “safety-net” hospitals like Loretto have relied on for many years.

Loretto is one of several West and South Side hospitals that face a dramatic drop in funding due to the rewrite, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Pastor Percy Giles, of Temple of Faith MB Church and a former director of the Westside Health Authority, said Medicaid plays a vital role on the West Side. About 95 percent of those helped through Westside Health Authority enrolled in Medicaid, Giles said.

The Medicaid rewrite currently underway by state legislators and the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services could cause safety-net hospitals such as Loretto Hospital to “go away,” said Rep. Lilly, who is also a member of Loretto Hospital’s board of directors.

Not only does the proposal under consideration put Loretto patients in jeopardy but also could cost nearly 600 employees their jobs – about 40 percent of whom live in Austin. The hospital is the largest non-government employer in Austin, Lilly said.

Given the high number of Medicaid patients at Loretto, Lilly said it’s entirely possible that doctors will choose to no longer provide services and practice elsewhere.

“That makes us an inhumane society,” Lilly said.

CONTACT: austintalks.org@gmail.com