Leaders debate new hospital in Franklin County, IL

A local doctor wants to open up a hospital in his home county. Franklin County, Illinois already had a hospital, serving just basic emergency needs for the area.

Dr. Tim Morthland’s practice has worked side by side with Franklin Hospital for years – but the two may soon part ways. But as Morthland looks at better helping the county’s medical needs through a new, expanded hospital neither side seems sure if they’ll move forward on the project together or if the county will end up with two hospitals.

For more than 60 years, Franklin Hospital has served the community of Benton. Hospital Chief Operating Officer Derek Johnson says its only real challenge these days is fighting to survive Illinois’ budget impasse.

"The hospital is doing well. We do suffer from the fact that the state of Illinois does not have a budget yet," Johnson said.

Johnson says every year Franklin Hospital sees about 7,000 people walking in their doors to use the emergency room services. They’re small, sure, but he says they’re meant to be and it works well for what the community needs.

Dr. Tim Morthland, CEO of Morthland College Health Services, works with Franklin Hospital under contract through July 31. The hospital board voted in February to end Morthland’s contract to trim costs during the budget impasse.

Earlier in the summer, Morthland announced he is looking to build a new hospital in the area with expanded services. He submitted a proposal to the board about taking over management of the hospital and looking at building from there.

“Our proposal is to shift the entire course of the hospital from primarily an out-patient clinical focus to a bona fide inpatient service hospital," Morthland said. He said the new hospital still needs years of planning and state approval before anything could move forward, but he said he’s looking at a 2-4 year construction time for an expanded bed, expanded service hospital that would cost roughly $30 million to build.

But Johnson said the hospital board cannot yet vote on Morthland’s proposal because what he submitted was not considered a formal, legal proposal. Morthland said he’s since provided the documentation to the board but Johnson said he doesn’t think that would change anything.

“But at this point in time – the board is not soliciting proposals to manage the hospital or purchase the hospital,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the county cannot currently afford a new hospital, though they have looked at the option in the past. But Morthland says it’s what people here need and he says he plans to move forward on it even if Franklin Hospital doesn’t want to be a part of it.

During a hospital board meeting Tuesday night, members are expected to reconsider the termination of Morthland’s contract with the hospital. It is set to expire at the end of July and Franklin Hospital has hired one nurse practitioner to help fill that gap.

Johnson said the hospital bears no ill will toward Dr. Morthland or his practice, but says without much funding from the budget impasse, they need to cut costs at the hospital and ending Morthland’s contract is expected to save the hospital at least $300,000 a year.

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