Franciscan appeals judge's upheld order to keep ER open for 9 months

A judge upheld his order for Franciscan Health to keep its emergency room in Hammond, Ind., open for nine months despite the system arguing that doing so is unsafe. The health system is now appealing that decision. 

Mishawaka, Ind.-based Franciscan Health filed documents Dec. 28 asking Lake Superior Court Judge Bruce D. Parent to lift a preliminary injunction for continued emergency room operations in Hammond for nine months, calling compliance with the order "impossible" and dangerous. 

"It is impossible for Franciscan to comply with the preliminary injunction, and the preliminary injunction puts patients at substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury," the filing, signed by Franciscan Health Hammond's interim president Barbara Anderson, stated.

On Dec. 29, the judge rejected the hospital's motion, calling Franciscan's claim "untestable, largely unprovable, and certainly not proven here," The Times of Northwest Indiana reports.

As it had previously indicated, Franciscan followed by filing an emergency appeal with the Indiana Court of Appeals Dec. 29, to overrule the judge's decision. 

"This appeal arises out of the City of Hammond's eleventh hour attempt to unilaterally force Franciscan to keep the hospital and, in particular, its emergency department, operational and open to the public," the appeal states. "Hospitals do not open and close overnight, and the events leading up to Franciscan's decision to close the hospital have been a long time coming."

Among its arguments, Franciscan contends in the appeal that it has terminated a number of contracts needed to maintain operations and will be, as of Dec. 31, physically unable to provide on-site laboratory, pharmacy, radiology, respiratory care, surgery, wound care and dietary services, among others. Franciscan's license to operate the hospital from the Indiana State Department of Health expires Dec. 31. The system alleges the loss of services leaves it unable to renew the license, making continued ER operations "unlawful." 

In early November, Franciscan Health announced its plan to end inpatient and emergency care at its 226-bed hospital in Hammond by year's end. On Dec. 22, Mr. Parent granted a preliminary injunction requested by Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and ordered the system to keep the ER open for nine months. The decision arrived 16 hours before the ER was set to close.

To obtain the preliminary injunction, the city of Hammond argued that Franciscan Health broke its pledge to continue providing 24/7 emergency medical services at the former 227-bed hospital while demolishing the rest of the facility. Franciscan disputes having contractual obligation to continue providing ER services in Hammond.

In 2021, the system announced plans to scale down the hospital to a 10-bed inpatient unit and emergency department. Under the plan announced Nov. 3, inpatient and emergency care would end completely, with the ER closing by year's end. The system would then direct patients to its hospitals in Munster and Dyer, which are two and six miles away, respectively.

In the plan rolled out in November, Ms. Anderson said inpatient volume at Franciscan Health Hammond dropped to an average of 2.5 patients per day in the last 15 months and more than 90 percent of the 54 patients who present to the ER daily would be appropriately cared for in a lower-cost setting, such as an urgent care or primary care clinic.

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