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Appeals court overturns lower court ruling demanding hospital keep ER open

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | January 06, 2023
Emergency Medicine
An appeals court judge allowed Franciscan Health Hammond to proceed with closing its ER. (Photo courtesy of Franciscan Health)
An Indiana Court of Appeals judge has overruled a lower court judge who ordered Franciscan Health Hammond to keep its emergency room open an additional nine months.

The healthcare provider was met with backlash from the City of Hammond after it announced in early November that it would be closing its ER at the end of 2022 due to staffing shortages and a decrease in patients.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. filed an injunction to stop the closure. On December 22, Lake County Superior Court Judge Bruce Parent granted a preliminary injunction to delay the closure for nine months while the city searched for a replacement provider.
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The hospital filed an emergency motion to appeal the ruling, and on December 30, Chief Appeals Court Judge Cale Bradford issued a stay that halted Parent’s order, reported the Associated Press.

“We believe this decision prioritizes patient safety, which has been our primary concern throughout the legal proceedings,” Franciscan Health Hammond interim president and CEO Barbara Anderson said in a statement.

Following the appeals court’s decision, the hospital said it would close its ER the next day, with ambulances redirected starting at midnight and the ER halting walk-ins at noon on December 31.

McDermott said there was no worthwhile legal recourse for the city to pursue. “They’re going to tear everything out of there, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they threw a grenade in there on their way out,” he said.

When filing his injunction, McDermott argued that the closure violated a promise made by hospital chain owner Franciscan Alliance 18 months ago, in which it said that it would continue to keep its emergency room open 24/7, while downsizing, only to then say it was closing it with no warning.

Franciscan denied this and said it would be unable to continue running the hospital even if it wanted to because its state license to operate it was expiring on December 31 with no way of renewing it.

It also told its ER physicians and other providers that it would be terminating their contracts because of the closure and said that patients lived closer to other ERs anyway.

But Parent sided with the city, ordering the provider to take all “necessary steps” to keep the facility “licensed and operational” and prohibited it from reducing care currently provided to patients. It also had to immediately help search for a replacement emergency medical provider for Hammond.

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