A judge has ordered Franciscan Health Hammond to keep its emergency room operational and licensed. (Photo courtesy of Franciscan Health)

Indiana health system requests lifting of injunction preventing ER closure

January 03, 2023
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
Franciscan Health Hammond in Indiana has requested that a preliminary injunction requiring it to continue performing emergency services be lifted, saying that it cannot safely operate its emergency room.

The facility was days away from closing its ER when Lake Superior Judge Bruce Parent ordered it to keep providing emergency care for nine more months, reported the Associated Press.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. filed for the injunction on the grounds that hospital chain owner Franciscan Alliance broke its promise 18 months ago to continue providing 24/7 emergency medical care at the hospital, while downsizing.

Franciscan denies this contractual obligation and says its state license to operate a Hammond hospital expires on December 31, with no way of renewing it.

The city asked the court to keep the ER open for 18 months but McDermott Jr. says he is already searching for a replacement provider. “We accept the challenge, and I’m sure we will find someone to take over that space,” he told The Northwest Indiana Times.

Under the injunction, Franciscan must take all “necessary steps” to keep the facility “licensed and operational” and is prohibited from reducing care currently provided to patients. It also must immediately undertake all necessary efforts to obtain an emergency medical provider for the citizens of Hammond.

It argues that it has already notified its emergency medicine physicians and other providers that it will be terminating their contracts. Additionally, it says most patients live closer to emergency rooms at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago or Community Munster, according to The Northwest Indiana Times.

It also says patients admitted to the hospital will have to be transferred to other area hospitals, with “the delay associated with transferring a patient to a local hospital” potentially being “life-threatening” in serious emergencies, said Barbara Anderson, interim president of Franciscan Health Hammond.

She adds that the hospital cannot bill for services. "Forcing it to provide emergency care without compensation when it has a fully-equipped, modern emergency department approximately six miles down the road is inherently unjust; particularly, when the harm to the city is nonexistent.”

Franciscan plans to file for emergency action against the injunction in the Indiana Court of Appeals if Parent does not rule in favor of its request.

Hammond attorney Kevin Smith says the injunction is “a valid enforceable order” and that Franciscan is a large company with the resources to comply and the city assumes it will.

"We will respond to their motion as required under the rules of the court,” he said.