How one community hospital is gaining, not losing patients

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Patient volume is on the rise at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, Ill., as it prepares to join Peoria, Ill.-based OSF HealthCare.

At a time when many community hospitals are struggling to attract patients amid increased competition, the 298-bed hospital—which will become OSF HealthCare Little Company of Mary Medical Center when the deal closes Feb. 1—is seeing more demand.

“We’ve had a really huge increase in our volumes over the last few months,” since MetroSouth Medical Center, located 5 miles away in Blue Island, closed late last year, CEO Dr. John Hanlon said.

On average, Little Company’s emergency department is seeing 150 to 160 patients per day, compared with an average of 120 patients per day a few months ago, said Hanlon, who will serve as president of the hospital under OSF. There were close to 180 patients in the emergency department yesterday, he added.

Even before patient volume increased, Little Company in August began a $25 million project to nearly double the size of its emergency department. The project, which includes a “fast-track area” for low-acuity patients and a dedicated behavioral health suite, is expected to be complete by late 2021.

Despite the increase in patient volume, after 90 years as an independent hospital, Little Company needed to find a partner. It called off plans to merge with the Rush University System for Health in 2018, and it announced the combination with Catholic chain OSF in July.

“There are a lot of efficiencies that come with systems; there are a lot of ability to improve processes,” Hanlon said. “You’re seeing in the Chicago area it’s just too hard to stay independent, so it was actually probably not so much pressure to stay independent as it was pressure to join someone.”

In additional to deeper pockets, joining OSF gives the hospital—and the South Side—access to technology like OnCall, a virtual urgent care platform; MyChart, which helps patients manage appointments and get test results; and Epic’s electronic medical record system, Hanlon said.

In 2018, Little Company reported net income of $31.6 million, according to data compiled by Modern Healthcare Metrics. Hanlon said Little Company has relied on the performance of its investment portfolio to offset operating losses over the years.

Meanwhile, absorbing Little Company gives OSF 14 hospitals and a clinical presence in the Chicago area, though it has been involved in the local market through relationships with the University of Illinois at Chicago, Matter and Avia.

The fair market value of the transaction is approximately $251 million, according to an application filed with the state.

This article was originally published in Crain’s Chicago Business.

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