Franciscan Health Hammond closure leaves care gap in Northwest Indiana’s largest city – Chicago Tribune newstrendslive

When Franciscan Alliance closed its Hammond campus completely at the end of 2022, it left the city’s downtown without significant, easy access to a center handling acute health care needs.

Formerly known as St. Margaret’s, the hospital has been part of Hammond since 1898, only 14 years after the city itself became incorporated.

There are still acute care hospitals in the communities surrounding Hammond, such as St. Catherine’s Hospital in East Chicago and Community Hospital in Munster. Both hospitals are less than 10 miles from the city’s center and already service many of the Hammond residents who live near the city’s north and south borders, but to residents in central Hammond and on the other side of the border in Calumet City, Illinois, the additional travel distance could pose a threat.

A lot could go wrong in that extra window of time to receive treatment, assistant professor in the IU Northwest School of Nursing Dr. Tiffany Thompkins said.

“I think some people believe that it’s a small thing or an inconvenience, but it’s not, it’s far reaching,” Thompkins said. “It’s hard to get underserved communities to go anyway, now you add the burden of transportation.”

According to Franciscan the hospital’s closure was a financial decision spurred by dwindling staff and patient numbers.

“2022 ended up being the worst year for hospital finances since the beginning of the pandemic,” Erik Swanson, senior vice president of data and analytics at Kaufman Hall, a healthcare management and consulting firm, said in a video conference Wednesday.

Franciscan isn’t the only hospital system in Northwest Indiana feeling the financial strain, according to Lauren Trumbo, the chief financial officer of Methodist Hospitals, nursing and physician shortages, rising contract labor expenses and supply expenses have put further strain on an already overburdened system. “We don’t want to cut costs … however, everyone is tightening their belts.”

When the city of Hammond sued the hospital to remain open in December, Lake County Superior Court Civil Division Judge Bruce Parent ordered Franciscan to remain operational for nine months, but his decision was shortly overturned by the Indiana Court of Appeals.

“It has a damaging effect on the residents of Hammond, but it also has a damaging effect on the residents of Munster and Highland and Dyer because it’s going to affect all the hospital care throughout the North Township,” Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott said.

In court, Franciscan denied that the extra distance would pose a significant barrier to patients seeking emergency services.

According to an article in the American Heart Association, treatment of acute coronary syndrome and stroke symptoms is significantly more effective the quicker it is administered.

“The weak link in the chain of events leading to prompt and effective treatment is patient delay in seeking care,” the article stated.

According to the article “more than 50% of people who suffer an acute myocardial infarction or coronary death in the United States die in an emergency department or before reaching a hospital within an hour of symptom onset.”

The gap in coverage is not expected to drag on as the city has already begun talks to bring a new hospital to the downtown area, according to McDermott.

“I don’t think we’re going to see a long term scenario where there is no emergency room in Hammond,” Micah Pollak, Associate Professor of Economics at Indiana University Northwest, said. “I think we will see something maybe not as big, maybe different types of services, but it’s a large population center that has a lot of health care needs.”

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