QUINCY -- Two very different story lines emerged Thursday during a packed public hearing on Quincy Medical Group's plan to create an ambulatory surgical center in the former Bergner's building.
QMG officials laid out plans for five surgical rooms and three procedure rooms, with one operating room dedicated to cardiac catheterization. At a cost of $19.5 million, QMG said the center would save surgery patients an estimated $4 million a year in facility fees.
Blessing Health System officials said adding the surgery center would cost the nonprofit hospital between $25 million and $41 million, reduce jobs in the community and derail a partnership between Blessing and QMG in the existing surgical center that's nearing its 13th year.
It will be up to the Illinois Health Care Facilities and Services Review Board to sort through the claims and counterclaims during a March 5 meeting in Bolingbrook.
"There is a genuine need for this surgery center," said QMG CEO Carol Brockmiller.
Outpatient procedures are increasingly popular as a means of getting quality care at lower costs, Brockmiller said. Costs at free-standing surgical centers average about 50 percent lower costs. Brockmiller said those savings will be passed along to the community.
Blessing CEO Maureen Kahn said Blessing bought the existing surgical enter at 1118 Hampshire from QMG at a cost of $13 million in 2006. The hospital pays about $1 million a year to the clinic as a combination of rent and for management of the facility by QMG employees. Hospital officials have said the surgery rooms are in use only about 50 percent of the time and additional surgical offices could be added to the QMG building where that existing surgery center is located.
"This would do devastating harm to Blessing Health System," Kahn said.
Kahn said the hospital would have to reduce its staffing level by 400 positions to absorb the loss.
A loss of that magnitude also would force the hospital to look at cuts in mental health and geriatric services. The hospital already commits about $6 million a year to charity care.
Kahn said QMG's initial 205-page application for the surgery center said Blessing rejected a chance to cooperate on a new surgery center. Hospital officials said they learned of QMG's effort the day its application was filed. A substitute page has been sent to the review board, avoiding mention of any rejection by Blessing.
QMG's application also discusses an estimated caseload of 11,600 patients who would be redirected to the new surgical center by physicians who work at QMG. Blessing handled 13,636 surgeries in 2017.
Jill Stroot, director of patient access at Blessing said that loss would "gut the current surgical center" without improving the level of care.
Patty Williamson, chief financial officer at QMG, said there still will be lots of surgeries to go around because ambulatory surgeries and procedures are growing at more than 8 percent per year.
Dr. Todd Petty of QMG said the main advantage of creating a standalone surgical center would be saving money for patients.
Petty said he treated a patient without insurance who had saved $10,000 to cover the cost of hernia surgery. When the man found out the total cost would be $30,000, Petty didn't believe him, but later learned that was the nondiscounted charge.
"A medical monopoly leads to higher costs," Petty said.
Patrick Gerveler, vice president and chief financial officer of Blessing Health System, said surgical costs have been cut 30 percent this year. In addition the hospital has been reducing prices on laboratory work, imaging and other services.
Gerveler said the hospital has about 3,400 employees and would need to cut 400 jobs -- a 12 percent reduction -- if QMG doctors take patients to the new surgical center.
Blessing officials also said UnityPoint Health, an Iowa company, owns 40 percent of QMG and profits might be going out of state.
QMG's legal counsel denied that profits would be going elsewhere.
Dr. Joseph Meyer of Quincy Anesthesia Associates questioned a QMG claim that another surgical center is needed because the existing one is near capacity. Meyer said the existing center is operating at 47 percent capacity.
Meyer also said he has never been approached to offer anesthesia services for later hours or on weekends so that other surgeons and other patients could be worked in.
"Rooms that sit empty drive up costs. (QMG has) failed to demonstrate a need for more ORs," Meyer said.
Jim Rubottom, vice president of human resources at Knapheide Manufacturing, said he has spoken with both Blessing and QMG about the need for lower cost options. He spoke in favor of the QMG surgical center as an alternative that will save many people from going elsewhere for medical care.
The Illinois Health Care Facilities and Services Review Board lists a letter of support from Knapheide written by Rubottom. The website shows other letters of support from local leaders and organizations and lists Feb. 13 as the deadline to file written comments.
Kahn said the hospital respects the doctors working at QMG. She expressed a hope that the clinic will look for options that help both entities. She believes there's enough room on the third floor of 1118 Hampshire to add surgery rooms if a sleep study center and plastic surgery suite are moved elsewhere.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the misspelling of a doctor's name.