New hospital coming to Franklin County, Illinois

A new hospital and 250 jobs are coming to Benton, Illinois, Morthland College Health Services announced Tuesday. 

The company says it’s building a $30 million to $40 million hospital to meet the needs of the people who live in Franklin County.

Right now, people there are driving to Herrin, the Good Samaritan Hospital in Mt. Vernon, and Heartland Regional in Marion for certain procedures.

There is already a community hospital in Benton, though: Franklin Hospital. It serves as a critical access hospital, meaning it’s limited to 16 beds and in the services it can offer. You can’t even have a baby there. For many inpatient and outpatient procedures, the hospital has to send you to another hospital.

City leaders believe a new hospital will mean healthier people and a healthier economy.

Mike Williams and his son, Clint, say if they were injured, they wouldn’t visit Franklin Hospital even though it’s right across the street from their house. “I’d take him to Herrin or he’d take me to Herrin,” Williams told me.

It’s a real problem to Morthland College Health Services President Dr. Tim Morthland. He says it’s taking about $30 to 40 million in Medicare and Medicaid money out of Franklin County.

“We have our residents seeking health care in the to the north, the south, to the east, and west,” Morthland said.

Franklin Hospital almost closed its doors 13 years ago when it was left with an emergency room and two beds, but the USDA loaned it $4 million in 2003, expanding it to 16 beds.

“What we want is a full-fledged hospital to serve Franklin County,” Benton Mayor Fred Kondritz said. He says he believes a new hospital will meet people’s needs because “a lot of surgery, a lot of testing, and a lot of medical procedures could be done on site.”

The project has a three to four year timeline, but the Williams’ are excited to have a full-service hospital close to home. “There’s hardly nothing here, no jobs, no medical. They’re taking everything we got away,” Williams said.

Once a new hospital is built, the future of Franklin Hospital is up in the air. Morthland says it has made a proposal to take over and privatize the hospital. But, Franklin Hospital’s chief financial officer just recently learned about the new hospital and says the board hasn’t made a decision.

Morthland estimated debt from Franklin Hospital to be in the neighborhood of $10 million. But, because the county already subsidized the hospital $750,000 a year, it would put that money toward paying off the debt for about 15 years.

Developers haven’t agreed on a specific location, but say the new hospital will be near the airport district, close to Interstate 57.

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