Provident diverts ambulances to UCMC

Provident Hospital’s ambulances will be sent to other South Side hospitals in order to cut costs.

By Sam Levine

Provident Hospital will start redirecting ambulances to other hospitals on the South Side, including the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC), beginning February 15. The UCMC, which already has one of the highest emergency room bypass rates in Cook County, is the closest hospital to Provident and will be the most deeply affected by the move.

Provident, which sits on the northwest side of Washington Park, will save between $20 and $25 million by closing its doors to ambulance runs. The hospital, managed by Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS), has long been saddled with tremendous debt resulting from infrastructural problems and service to uninsured patients.

Lucio Guerrero, a CCHHS spokesperson, said that despite Cook Country Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s effort to curtail the county’s $487 million debt by 21 percent, the hospital had already planned to transition into an outpatient-only care facility. A 2010 CCHHS study estimated that it would cost between $38 and $52 million to keep Provident open as a full service facility.

Each year, approximately 3,800 patients arrive at Provident’s emergency room by ambulance, adding up to roughly 10 percent of the total number of patients the hospital sees annually.

In a January 29 article in The Chicago Crusader titled “Provident Hospital Shifts Medical Focus,” Guerrero noted that because 90 percent of patients did not arrive at the emergency room by ambulance, the hospital could afford to eliminate ambulance services, as long as the hospital’s emergency room remained open. Guerrero said he could not estimate how many more ambulance runs the UCMC emergency room can expect.

UCMC was close to finalizing a $20 million partnership with Provident through the University’s Urban Health Initiative in 2009 that would allow them to send some of its own patients to Provident in order to free up beds in its emergency room.

UCMC spokesperson John Easton said that UCMC is still considering a partnership with Provident, but did not comment on what the details of the partnership might look like. Guerrero also confirmed that discussions with UCMC were ongoing.

Other hospitals in addition to the UCMC that will see an increase in ambulance runs are St. Bernard, Jackson Park, Mercy, and South Shore. UCMC spokesperson Cara Birch wrote in an e-mail message that the UCMC and other affected hospitals would be meeting this week to develop a divergence plan before the cuts begin next week.