CAIRO — The town of Cairo is $2 million closer to having a much-needed critical access hospital.
The project would join Community Health and Emergency Services’ two Cairo facilities — a diagnostic center and a megaclinic — with a 15-bed critical access wing containing between eight and 10 beds for psychiatric patients, according to CHESI CEO Fred Bernstein.
“There’s no hospital bed for a psych patient (in Cairo), and we’ve paid the price here any number of times,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein recalled a 2014 attempted bank robbery in Cairo that left three people dead.
“That person was mentally unbalanced and had been in treatment, been released, wasn’t taking meds, and stabbed these people,” Bernstein said. “And stabbing to death in Cairo is lethal, because we don’t have a hospital. … Those women would be alive today if we had had our little hospital with our little ER.”
Bernstein has been wanting to build an emergency room in Cairo since the late 1980s. He still needs another $4.5 million to begin construction. The facility would bring in 100 new jobs.
CHESI officials announced the new funding at the Cairo Megaclinic Friday morning. They were joined by State Sen. Dale Fowler, who helped secure the $2,084,459 allocation in the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget.
Fowler has also been working on a river port district project that would capitalize on barge traffic in Illinois’ southernmost city, which is located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
“This is a lot more than about economic development,” Fowler said of the hospital. “ … This project is about saving lives, which is what this will do.”
Bernstein said Cairo had suffered setbacks recently, including the ongoing public housing crisis, but that people still depend on the facility for care.
“As difficult as it has been and as difficult as it is going to remain, we’re determined to see this project through,” Bernstein said.
Cordell McGoy, the chairman of CHESI’s board, said he believed the critical access hospital project could be one of the first steps to revitalizing Cairo.
“Nobody’s going to open a business in here with hundreds and hundreds of jobs when the insurance company wouldn’t insure them because (Cairo) doesn’t have an emergency room or a hospital. It’s commonsense business issues that we’ve got to deal with,” McGoy said.
Tyrone Coleman, Cairo’s mayor, said he was grateful for Fowler’s service and accessibility.
“This hospital will do wonders, not just for this community, but for this area, and we’re just thankful for all the work he puts in,” Coleman said.
Larry Klein, chairman of the Port District and general manager of Cairo Public Utility, also thanked Fowler for pursuing projects in Cairo.
“He came here and he saw need and he saw potential, and he ferociously went after funds to try to support our efforts,” Klein said.
“All these things are like dominoes — you lose one, and you start to lose another,” Bernstein said. “The projects you heard about this morning are really determined efforts … to get things reoriented so we can survive and thrive as a community. We know we have good people here. We just want to be able to build something for them.”