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Ferrell Hospital $37.5 million expansion gets OK from state board

  • Part of the Ferrell Hospital team in Bolingbrook on Tuesday morning listens to testimony. From left: Eldorado Mayor Rocky James (red sweater); Chief Financial OfficerJoe Hohenberger; Ferrell board member Gene Morris and CEO Alisa Coleman.

    Part of the Ferrell Hospital team in Bolingbrook on Tuesday morning listens to testimony. From left: Eldorado Mayor Rocky James (red sweater); Chief Financial OfficerJoe Hohenberger; Ferrell board member Gene Morris and CEO Alisa Coleman.
    Renee Trappe photo

  • Eldorado Mayor Rocky James, foreground, sits at the witness table Tuesday in front of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board. Next to him is Angie Hampton, the CEO of Egyptian Health Department, who testified in favor of Ferrell Hospital. At the other end of the table is Harrisburg Medical Center board President David Disney, far left, and CEO Rodney Smith.

    Eldorado Mayor Rocky James, foreground, sits at the witness table Tuesday in front of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board. Next to him is Angie Hampton, the CEO of Egyptian Health Department, who testified in favor of Ferrell Hospital. At the other end of the table is Harrisburg Medical Center board President David Disney, far left, and CEO Rodney Smith.
    Renee Trappe photo

  • Eldorado Rotary president-elect Caleigh Bruce reacts as she gets news from Ferrell Hospital CEO Alisa Coleman that Ferrell Hospital's expansion plan has been approved.

    Eldorado Rotary president-elect Caleigh Bruce reacts as she gets news from Ferrell Hospital CEO Alisa Coleman that Ferrell Hospital's expansion plan has been approved.
    Travis DeNeal photo

 
By Renee Trappe
rtrappe@localsouthernnews.com
updated: 3/14/2017 7:00 PM

By Renee Trappe

rtrappe@localsouthernnews.com

BOLINGBROOK, Ill. -- Ferrell Hospital in Eldorado was given a green light Tuesday for a landmark $37.5 million renovation and expansion project that will double the size of the facility.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board voted 6-1 to approve the project, which will include a renovation of the existing facilities, as well as an additional radiology lab and a second operating theater.

The decision was met with mingled joy and relief by the Ferrell Hospital contingent that came north to suburban Chicago for the hearing, which included Eldorado Mayor Rocky James.

"Ferrell Hospital means so much to Eldorado," James said. "This is so good for the community."

The Review Board approved the project over the objections of officials from the Harrisburg Medical Center, the largest health care facility in southeastern Illinois. Officials testified that Ferrell's expansion went beyond what is necessary and could jeopardize Ferrell's financial future, which could in turn be "catastrophic" for the Harrisburg facility as well.

However, Review Board members said while they are somewhat concerned with Ferrell's financial picture, they consider the need of Saline County's Medicaid and Medicare patients to be of greater concern.

Tuesday's decision reverses a January vote by the Review Board that fell short of the required 5 "ayes" to approve the Ferrell Hospital petition. But because four of the nine board members were absent in January, Ferrell Hospital was invited back today to ask again.

The construction will add 55,000 square feet of space to the existing hospital and modernize the existing 17,400 square feet. A new emergency department will be created, along with new diagnostic imaging, laboratory, phlebotomy, chemotherapy, surgical and ambulatory care unit spaces. New spaces for the front lobby, a front canopy, the cafeteria and registration are also planned.

Ferrell Hospital CEO Alisa Coleman said her facility will now go full-speed ahead to acquire the loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture needed to finance construction. First, Ferrell's architect must now complete the final drawings and the hospital must hold a public hearing, which the USDA requires.

However, the USDA has approved the loan in its 2017-18 allocation, subject to approval by the Review Board, Ferrell officials said. The hospital is financing almost all of the construction costs through the USDA.

Coleman added that the largely defunct Ferrell Hospital Foundation -- a private fundraising arm of the hospital -- is being resurrected with the hiring of a new marketing and Foundation administrator, Bethany Reyling. Reyling started on Monday.

Coleman said the hospital hopes to stay on its proposed timeline, in which construction would be complete by March 2019. Whether it can is dependent on the federal government budget process, she added.

Harrisburg Medical Center CEO Rodney Smith, who argued against the project to the Review Board, congratulated the Eldorado team after the Review Board decision.

He said HMC's loss at the Review Board will not affect the Medical Center's strategic plans, and that it will continue to be a strong provider of regional health care.

Smith, who attended the hearing Tuesday with Harrisburg Medical Center board President David Disney, said their aim was never to prevent Ferrell Hospital from improving its facility. Instead, they wanted Ferrell to scale back the proposal to avoid potential financial disaster.

"We want Ferrell Hospital to succeed," Smith said. The hospitals are different in that Ferrell is a Critical Access Hospital, part of a federal program that helps hospitals in rural communities survive, and so gets a large number of Medicaid patients.

Smith argued that if Ferrell overextends itself financially and fails, the Medicaid patients who would then descend on the Harrisburg Medical Center could sink it.

Now that the die is cast, Smith said he and Disney are wishing Ferrell Hospital success.

Meanwhile, back in Eldorado, members of the Eldorado Rotary Club cheered when the club's president-elect Caleigh Bruce got word from Coleman that the project was approved.

Following the meeting, Rotary member and Eldorado businessman Jeff Kotner said he was pleased the project will move forward.

"It's tremendous good news," Kotner said. "Anytime we can have progress in a small town with the economic situation the country's in, that's great."

Mayor James told the Review Board that Ferrell Hospital has already created business interest in Eldorado, and that an assisted living provider has made inquiries about coming to town if the expansion goes through.

"It'll bring two years of construction work, too," he added.

Ferrell Hospital is the second largest employer in Eldorado, after the school district.

Staff writer Travis DeNeal contributed to this report.