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Workers rally as St. Margaret's Health - Peru closes temporarily

The hospital closed at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday due to financial reasons stemming from the pandemic.

PERU, Illinois — St. Margaret's Health - Peru closed its doors Saturday morning leaving its workers suddenly without a job.

"It's just devastating," Radiologic Technologist Ana Arteaga told News 8's Collin Riviello. "Our whole world changed in one day. I mean they just told us eight days ago, they didn't give us much time to wrap our heads around it."

The closure was announced on Jan. 20, blindsiding many of its workers. 

"It's sad," Arteaga added. "I mean with everything out there, the prices of everything. I have two kids at home." 

When asked what she would do now, Arteaga tearfully said, "I don't know... take the layoff and figure it out? See what's out there I guess [and] try to work for another organization, that values us."

In a Zoom press conference earlier this week with media, Vice President of Quality and Community Service Linda Burt said the temporary closure is due to a lack of funds, the high costs to bring in travel nurses and a staffing shortage.

"We're all suffering from the same pressure financially about funding temporary nurses. And that's been brought on by COVID," Burt said. 

She said the plan is to reopen the hospital when it gets state approval for a Rural Emergency Hospital designation. That designation opens it up to outside funding. It was created in 2020 as a result of the pandemic to allow hard-hit hospitals in rural areas to keep operating in communities that rely on it.

According to Burt, outside agency nurses make a wage 300% more than what the hospital's own staffed nurses receive. Something that OB Nurse Candice Jordan was outraged about.

"Travel is more expensive to the facility but if those wages that went to travel [nurses] went to the actual staff nurses, many would stay," Jordan said. 

Jordan said she believes she and her co-workers feel like they've been misled by the hospital administration.

"Many employees are from this area," she added. "They reside within a block, or blocks, or, within just a few miles from the hospital. Everyone has to now travel out. A lot of employees honestly don't feel like the Spring Valley location is an option for them. After everything that has been done, they feel misled. And they feel like they can't work for an institution that will mislead them, including myself."

So workers and former staff held a rally at 6:45 a.m. in front of the hospital's Emergency Department entrance in protest. Some former staff like Deb Puetz who worked at the hospital for 45 years, attended to show support and protest in solidarity. 

"The hospital is the heart of our community. And the loss of it is just so saddening, you know. I really hope that it's temporary as they say but it will never be as it was. It will never host in-patients. All my children, I have three children, they were born here. My in-laws passed away here. It's just so sad."

St. Margaret's Health has one other location in Spring Valley, Illinois.

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