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Hammond mayor considers next steps after judge orders ER to stay open

Michael Gallenberger
Lakeshore Public Radio

Funding from Illinois could help Northwest Indiana's largest city keep its emergency room open.

In November, Franciscan Health announced plans to close the ER at the former St. Margaret Hospital in downtown Hammond. But last week, a judge ordered it to remain open for another nine months, after the city argued that Franciscan broke its promise to keep offering emergency services while downsizing the rest of the hospital.

Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. told the city council Tuesday that there's interest from Illinois to help it stay open beyond that.

“There’s an interesting proposal coming from across the border, and it involves government money from another state,” McDermott said.

The hospital sits right on the state line, and it's the closest emergency room for many Illinois residents. But McDermott said that may have been part of the hospital's financial challenges.

"I imagine Indiana's probably quick to reimburse an Indiana hospital, but I don't know how quick Illinois is to reimburse an Indiana hospital. And when most of the patients are coming from Illinois, it's a major problem for anybody that's operating on the border," the mayor noted.

He said he's heard from a couple of providers interested in taking over the emergency room, but he worries that Franciscan may not be willing to sell the property to a potential competitor. He believes that's part of the reason why it initially said it would keep the emergency room open.

“We’re talking about an emergency room – 27,000 visits by the Hammond Fire Department for the previous five years. This is not a McDonald’s we’re talking about. You can’t lie about an ER. So what’s the motivation? Why would they lie to us? Because they didn’t want people – they didn’t want a competitor in Hammond,” McDermott told council members.

The mayor said he wouldn't hesitate to use eminent domain, if necessary, to make sure a future provider has a facility to use.