From WILL - News Headlines -

Advocates Hopeful in Hearing Over Provena Merger

Local health care advocates hope a plan to create Illinois' largest Catholic hospital system results in greater financial assistance for the low-income.

There was little opposition in a state hearing in Urbana Wednesday, and another held the same day in Danville, over the planned merger between Provena hospitals and Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care.

Those who backed the move during Urbana's 90-minute hearing included Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance, and members of Champaign County Health Care Consumers. The group's executive director, Claudia Lennhoff, said its partnership with Provena Covenant Medical Center has helped low-income patients with medical expenses, and that a new charity care program would emerge, based on the best of both hospital systems, if the merger is approved.

But John Hilty of Urbana was concerned that a larger hospital system makes it less responsive to a community's needs.

"It seems to me that smaller organizations are easier to manage and tend to be more responsive to local communities, rather than large organizations, where the decision making is less personal and less attuned to a particular city or location," he said.

Hilty also said a larger hospital system doesn't necessarily result in less costly medical bills.

Provena Covenant Medical Center lost its property tax exemption in 2004, when the Illinois Department of Revenue ruled the hospital didn't provide enough charity care. The President and CEO of its hospitals in Urbana and Danville, Michael Brown, said Provena Covenant has proved many times since then that the hospital is a community partner. He said the level of charity care should improve with the merger. Brown said the move will produce savings from controlling purchasing prices to office functions.

"When you look at the tsunami that's in front of us as being able to take care of people with the 10,000 people a day eligible to join the Medicare ranks," he said. "There are not enough people in the following two generations to pay for that. So we have to do this a different way. And being able to merge these together and to leverage the resources gives us an opportunity to at least meet that need."

The proposed merger also got letters of endorsement from Champaign State Senator Mike Frerichs and Champaign Mayor Don Gerard.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board will rule on the merger in October.