In September the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board allowed Advocate Health Care to downsize Bethany Hospital on the west side and turn it into a specialty hospital for long-term care. This past weekend Advocate announced it will seek to open a new hospital in the far-northwestern suburb of Round Lake. For details check out the Blogging Mayor of Round Lake, by mayor and real estate agent Bill Gentes, which includes links to newspaper stories. Crain’s gives the most background. Round Lake will issue bonds to buy a key parcel for Advocate.

Advocate — a chain whose hospitals have roots in Lutheranism, the United Church of Christ, and (at Bethany) the Church of the Brethren — is the biggest health care provider in Illinois and the second largest private employer of any kind in Chicago. It has long denied that it’s abandoning needy city residents for suburban ones. I covered the dispute in the Reader on December 16, 2005, where I wrote of the chain’s biggest adversary, the Service Employees International Union:

“The union claims that the forces of health care capitalism are pulling Advocate away from its religious and charitable roots. ‘Advocate isn’t losing money,’ says Joseph Geevarghese, an attorney and director of the union’s Hospital Accountability Project. ‘They have the resources to do more than just keep the doors open [which at that time was the issue at Bethany]. The incentives are all for hospitals to act like Wal-Mart and IBM.’ For example, the chain has to borrow money for its big projects, and if it wants the best interest rates it needs to show healthy returns — the lenders aren’t asking themselves what Jesus would do.”

What’s the difference between West Garfield Park and western Lake County? Both areas have surpluses of hospital beds. As the map in Crain’s makes clear, Round Lake isn’t exactly in a hospital desert. And a for-profit chain is already seeking to open a hospital nearby. But the west side has a health care crisis, and Lake County has paying customers. Advocate has plenty of incentives to follow the money; what would it do if union and church people weren’t dogging it at every turn?