By Eva Hofmann
At 12:01 a.m. on June 1, the former Mercy Hospital and Medical Center reopened its doors under new management and a new moniker: Insight Hospital and Medical Center Chicago.
Insight, a Flint, Michigan-based biomedical company, purchased the hospital from its previous owner, Trinity Heath, for $1. The hospital serves several South Side neighborhoods, including Bronzeville and Chinatown.
Trinity had attempted a $1 million deal to merge Mercy with South Shore and St. Bernard hospitals last year. When that deal fell apart in spring 2020, Trinity announced it would close Mercy. In February, Trinity filed for bankruptcy and began winding down services, including one of the city’s busiest emergency rooms.
The Illinois Health Services and Review Board rejected Trinity’s move to close Mercy, saying it would widen a healthcare gap that disproportionately affects low-income residents, especially in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trinity had been the hospital’s owner for the past nine years. Founded in 1852, Mercy was Chicago’s oldest hospital and its first chartered teaching hospital. Insight Chicago leaders have pledged to restore it as a teaching hospital but say they need to tackle some other priorities first. The South Side hospital, located at 2525 S Michigan Ave, is the company’s first Illinois-based acquisition.
“We had somewhat limited access to the building and personnel, and we weren’t quite sure of what we were walking into,” said Atif Bawahab, chief strategy officer for Insight corporate and CEO for Insight Chicago. Bawahab went on to explain that, because Trinity had been looking to close the hospital, several staff members already had secured employment elsewhere.
Understand the community
“Our first goal was to understand the community’s needs,” he said, adding the key priority was to continue and sustain emergency department services.
“There has been a little bit of miscommunication with the surrounding community in that they think the hospital is closed,” said Bawahab. “Our ED [emergency department] is open on a 24/7 basis.” Bawahab said Insight wants to expand from basic ED to comprehensive ED services, which includes reinstating ambulance services.
Immediately upon taking over the hospital, Insight transitioned into developing the ED’s needed support services—including radiology, lab, and pharmacy. According to Bawahab, everything has gone well. “We also have transfer agreements,” he said. For example, if a patient presents in the ED and requires care that is not yet available at Insight, that patient can be transferred to a local hospital that can provide the necessary treatment.
Bawahab noted three pillars that will address Insight’s goal of restoring patient services. First, “We want to be more conservative from a patient safety and clinical care standpoint,” he said. Second is ensuring compliance with regulatory entities such as Medicare to maintain infrastructure and HVAC systems. Third, Insight will strive to ensure financial solvency. “If this is going to be a longterm, sustainable endeavor, we have to make sure it’s financially solvent,” he said.
The new owners pledged to keep the facility open at least through 2029 and restore medical services that Near South Side neighborhoods have not had in years. The agreement addresses community leaders’ concerns that Insight would close the hospital or pare down its operations instead of keeping it as a comprehensive facility that treats some of Chicago’s poorest and sickest patients.
The hospital continues to offer inpatient psychiatry, rehab, and support services. Additionally, since Insight has taken over, the hospital also offers outpatient behavioral health services.
Currently, Insight has an obstetrician on call and available should a pregnant woman present herself in the emergency room, but the hospital is not equipped for childbirth yet. “It is our intention to offer labor and delivery services once we achieve the three pillars of patient safety, regulatory compliance, and financial solvency,” said Bawahab.
Insight has pledged to create annual, publicly available capital budgets, restore or increase charity care, and report periodically on its progress.
As the hospital welcomes back patients, activists who stopped it from closing say they were left out of those final talks and do not know what commitments Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration and hospital leaders made to ensure its longterm future.
Fifth District State Representative Lamont Robinson has been at the forefront of the fight to keep the hospital open for almost a year. “Where would the residents on the South Side go, particularly in the Bronzeville community and those on Medicaid?” he asked. “Trinity stated that Mercy was in the black before they took over, so it’s a very big question how a billion dollar corporation could take over the hospital that was in the black and cause that hospital to go in the red and not be profitable.”
Robinson said the community was not able to vet Insight, noting, “Trinity brought them to the table, and they wanted Insight to purchase the hospital for $1. The problem is that…we had other groups that were interested and they were ignored.”
Now members of the Chicago Health Equity Coalition are pushing to review the formal agreement that gave Insight Chicago control. Despite repeated attempts, Gazette Chicago could not reach the coalition for comment.
In the meantime, Insight has promised to appoint three members of the local community to serve on its board.
“It’s part of our six-month plan to institute board members,” said Bawahab. “We have to ensure that whoever we have on the board will be able to provide the best input into the direction of this hospital.”
Bawahab did not disclose names but said Insight has targeted highly capable individuals from the community. “We see these positions as so important in terms of planning and steering the hospital’s operations, and we want to put in the most capable board possible,” he said. “We want to be aggressive but can’t be haphazard. We need to be realistic about what needs to be in place. People are entrusting us with their lives, and that is a serious and sacred responsibility. “