Northwestern’s McHenry Hospital to close OB unit at the end of the year

The following message was sent to constituents in Senator Craig Wilcox’s legislative district on Tuesday, December 14:

This morning, the state’s Health Facilities and Services Review Board (HFSRB) met and voted on an application brought forward by Northwestern Medicine to eliminate labor and delivery services at their McHenry hospital by the end of this year. The vote to allow the McHenry Hospital OB closure was approved in a 7-1 vote. Beginning in January of 2022, expectant mothers from this area will have to drive a minimum of a half-hour longer to Northwestern Hospital Huntley for labor and delivery.

Prior to today’s vote, the HFSRB held a public hearing on the issue on October 18. At that time, I spoke out against the petition. I also asked officials from Northwestern Medicine the following five questions, for which I never received answers:

  1. Why consolidation at Huntley was chosen, instead of consolidation at McHenry, which has almost twice as many births yearly, and especially since Huntley is a mere 10 minutes from Sherman.
  2. Could Northwestern provide actual drive time data for past year births and home of origin to validate their claims on limited drive time increases for most pregnant mothers after this move.
  3. I specifically asked for August birth data for past years, as this is generally the busiest birth month.
  4. Are there any other state senate districts in Illinois without an OB unit within the district boundaries.
  5. Regarding Northwestern’s claims that the 18–44-year-old female population growth is moving towards Huntley, despite massive 1500 home developments ongoing in McHenry and surrounding areas, I asked if their population data analysis had been peer-reviewed by others, like local realtors or the McHenry County Economic Development Corporation for accuracy.

 

Again, I did not receive the courtesy of a response to any of my questions. This morning, I renewed my objections, and expressed my deep concern that significant gaps in access and care will materialize when expectant mothers have to travel a half-hour or more to deliver their babies.

In the end, a flawed system that all but eliminates the HFSRB’s ability to ensure the continuation of high-quality health care led to the vote to approve the closure. I am extremely disappointed that my predecessors in the General Assembly have essentially neutered the HFSRB to the point where they are now merely a ‘check the box’ regulatory agency. Board members, in their own words, expressed their shared hesitancy and frustration over the consolidation proposal, pointing to their inability to engage in appropriate health care delivery planning. Instead, they were forced to base their vote on whether a series of boxes within an application were checked.

There is a big difference between meeting criteria, and properly planning to ensure continuity of care.

In my opinion, the officials from Northwestern Medicine may very well have met the criteria for “checking the boxes” for approval of their application to close their 23-bed birthing center in McHenry, but they came up short in providing acceptable explanations for how they will address health care access barriers, including transportation, that many lower-income residents face.

Today’s decision is not in the best interest of the communities I serve in this region. By adding a minimum half-hour to the drive to the hospital for delivery, high-risk patients will be placed at greater risk for devastating outcomes.

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