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‘Long way to go’ but Roseland Hospital shows signs of stability

The emergency room entrance RoselCommunity Hospital. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

The emergency room entrance at at Roseland Community Hospital. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

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Updated: October 3, 2014 6:02AM

Last June, Roseland Community Hospital nearly shut its doors because of financial problems — a move that could have left residents in one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods without a nearby hospital.

A year later, the 162-bed South Side hospital is still in the red financially, but it’s showing signs of stability and is expanding health services for residents.

Most notably, the millions in vendor debt — which Roseland had cited as a reason it almost closed — has been cut in half, officials said.

“It appears to me they’re doing a great job, and turning it around,” said State Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island), whose district includes Roseland.

Roseland Community Hospital, at 45 W. 111th Street, has struggled for years, in part because about half of the population that seeks care from the safety-net hospital is either uninsured or on Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor that tends to pay too low and too slow to providers.

But mismanagement under the previous administrators also added to the financial woes, Gov. Pat Quinn’s office has said, though past administrators have denied that.

Tim Egan, who has been CEO of the hospital since July 2013, declined to discuss the past mismanagement, except to say, “The legal system will determine the level of mismanagement that happened here.”

Quinn gave the hospital $350,000 in temporary assistance to keep the doors open back in June 2013, while a more comprehensive sustainability plan was being developed.

Since that time, Roseland Community Hospital has made a number of changes, including eliminating what Egan called “redundant management positions,” renegotiating contracts and hiring more nurses and doctors.

A preliminary fiscal year 2014 report Egan shared with the Chicago Sun-Times suggests that the hospital is heading in the right direction. Roseland was expected to lose almost $5.3 million in its operating income, but it actually lost far less — $586,323 — between April 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014.

“The debt, as it was stated in the first financial report that I saw, was $30 million,” Egan said. Of that, $16 million was debt from vendors who were not paid for their services, he said.

Roseland Community Hospital now has that debt down to $5.5 million as of Aug. 1.

“We still have a long way to go because we inherited such a tremendous amount of debt,” Egan said. But, he emphasized, “We’ve reached a level of sustainability.”

The state also confirmed that the hospital has not received any state funding since last year, except for what all safety-net hospitals get for providing a disproportionate amount of care to vulnerable populations.

But like many other safety-net hospitals, Roseland may never be comfortably stable because it tends to treat more uninsured patients who show up in the emergency room and can’t be turned away.

Even so, the hospital has started offering new health services, such as asthma vans and a dental van, and it’s looking to expand further with the help of a medical district.

Roseland Community Hospital was made a medical district in 2011 by Quinn, similar to the Near West Side’s medical district comprising Rush University Medical Center, the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center and Stroger Hospital. But because of delays, the first meeting to discuss possible enhancement to the Roseland district will finally begin next month.

Yet, it’s not clear how much patients actually see what’s being called the “new” Roseland Community Hospital.

James Harris, 63, who lives across the street from the hospital and comes every two months or so for blood pressure treatment and checkups, hasn’t noticed much change, but, he said: “They’ve shown me they generally do care for people, and . . . I like the treatment that I’ve been getting.”

A few others said despite living within walking distance of Roseland hospital, they would rather seek care elsewhere to get what they consider better care.

Michael Valentine, 45 — who said he had a terrible experience at the hospital in May but had a life-saving one in 2012 — had mixed reviews.

“They have wonderful doctors here, but when you don’t have the same technology as the other upper-echelon [hospitals] you don’t stand a chance,” he said.

The Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston, founder and president of Uplift Inc. and an outspoken proponent for a first-class hospital in Roseland, said the health services in the works are “an awesome beginning.”

But he added, “We have to continue to do more, to create the vision of a healthy Roseland.”

Twitter: @MonifaThomas1

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