“We were just thrown out to the street”: Peru’s only hospital closes abruptly

Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 5:00 PM CST
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PERU, Illinois (KWQC) - St. Margaret’s - Peru hospital closed its doors on Jan. 28, in an abrupt move patients claim, they were not properly notified about.

In a letter from hospital leadership to employees, executives said the hospital’s current provider of physicians terminated its contract and St. Margaret’s can’t find or financially support a new emergency room provider. In addition, the letter said there’s not enough staff to operate the hospital in Peru and St. Margaret Health’s other hospital a few miles away in Spring Valley. The letter cites COVID, a cyber-attack preventing timely billing, staffing shortages, and other rising costs for the closure.

The letter was dated Jan. 20, giving employees about a one-week notice. Patients of St. Margaret’s said they were not notified of the closure by the hospital first; instead finding out on social media.

“It didn’t seem real. It was weird because who finds out through Facebook that their hospital is closing?” said Ciara and Ryan Moore, patients of St. Margaret’s, “We were just thrown out to the street. Our doctor said we can’t see you anymore regarding your pregnancy. It’s not our doctor’s fault. She was just as heartbroken and upset as we were and confused.”

The couple now has to drive about an hour away to deliver their baby when the time comes.

“Hopefully make it in time that she stays in my belly until we get there and then I’m going to be delivered at the hands of whoever is on call is what I was told,” said Ciara, “We are experiencing the effects of it but it’s horrible to think about the staff who now don’t have jobs after they have been working at this place for twenty, thirty years. This is our first child and it’s terrifying. It’s a blessing but it’s terrifying. You get to know someone and see how they work with you and react to everything you want in your birth plan and then five weeks? I have to drive an hour away and hopefully make it in time.”

The couple said the hospital should have given patients more notice of the closure so they could arrange other plans with time to prepare. The couple will be able to see their doctor again after the baby is born.

St. Margaret’s Health - Peru posted on Facebook:

“As most of you have now heard, effective at 7 a.m., Saturday, January 28, 2023, all acute hospital services at St. Margaret’s Health – Peru will close. This will include ICU, Emergency Department services, Obstetrics, Med-Surg/Peds, all surgeries, Lab, X-Ray, and other outpatient hospital services. This will NOT affect primary and specialty clinics, nor physical therapy services at the Illinois Valley YMCA.

Effective Thursday, January 26, 2023, area EMS agencies will begin taking critical or life-threatening patients to the nearest emergency room. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you have a medical emergency.

This outcome was never a part of our plan or goal when deciding to merge with the former Illinois Valley Community Hospital. Together, we had shared a vision for more efficient delivery of high-quality healthcare in the region and an opportunity to combine resources to enhance the services provided. Despite our efforts to consolidate and streamline services to encourage a stronger financial position, factors beyond our control have brought about many unforeseen fiscal hardships.

In a healthcare climate already plagued by economic concerns that have been growing for years, the COVID-19 pandemic, a cyber-attack (which prevented SMH from being able to bill nor get paid, in a timely manner, for the services we provided), and severe staff shortages have compounded this problem. Like many, we too, have had to contend with the rising costs of goods and services, as well.

With these hardships in mind, we set out to explore an opportunity to pursue the conversion of one of our hospitals into a new type of hospital called a Rural Emergency Hospital (REH). The REH designation (which was recently established by the federal government to address the growing concern over closures of rural hospitals nationally) seemed like a promising new opportunity to keep both our hospitals open.

Unfortunately, more unforeseen circumstances have hindered this plan. Our current provider of emergency room physician coverage at St. Margaret’s Health – Peru terminated their contract, effective 7 a.m. on Saturday, January 28, 2023. At present, we are not able to find, nor financially support, a new ER provider. Furthermore, despite recruitment efforts, we have been unable to attract enough staff to continue to operate both hospitals.

Because of this, we must temporarily suspend operations at SMH-Peru hospital. IDPH has advised us that hospitals cannot operate without an open and fully-staffed emergency room.

Please know the true essence of St. Margaret’s Health has always been and still is, our employees and the citizens of the communities we serve. They are the most important assets we have, and without them, we cannot achieve our mission. As such, we would like to apologize to our employees and the community for not delivering our announcement in the best way possible. It was never our intent to blindside any of our employees or the community with such a sensitive and life-impacting announcement. As we move forward, we are working to improve our communication (to both our internal employees and the community alike).

Please bear in mind, these developments are new and unfamiliar territory for our St. Margaret’s Health Administration and Board of Directors. We are working to do our best to navigate these troubled waters and ask for your patience. We will continue to provide updates and clarifications as we learn more and become aware of any misinformation or confusion.

For more than a century, we have cared deeply for the communities we serve and our care is built on just that—community.”

Peru Mayor Ken Kolowski said the hospital has kept city leaders in the dark about its plans.

TV6 contacted hospital officials several times and has not heard back.