Some of Chicago's biggest and best-known hospitals have been making an increased push into the Northwest Indiana market.

Rush University System for Health opened the Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush Physical Therapy clinic in Munster, does thoracic surgery at Franciscan Health hospitals in Northwest Indiana, plans to provide telestroke services at Franciscan hospitals and is in the process of building a new Rush Munster Outpatient Center at 9200 Calumet Ave. that's expected to open soon.

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago neonatologists will start providing medical care this fall at Franciscan Health Crown Point, where the two hospitals will partner on creating a "regional center of excellence" for neonatology in Northwest Indiana.

And UChicago Medicine broke ground last week on a $121 million, two-story, 130,000-square foot micro-hospital at Interstate 65 and 109th Avenue in Crown Point, which will be its first freestanding medical facility in Indiana and largest facility outside of its home base in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood.

"These health care providers are expanding into the area to meet demand, particularly for specialized medicine," Indiana University Northwest associate professor of economics Micah Pollak said. "Indiana, including Northwest Indiana, has an aging population, and we often rank near the bottom of U.S. states in many health measures. While health care is already one of the largest industry employers in Northwest Indiana, we lack strong coverage of many specialized areas."

UChicago Medicine, which already had specialty medical offices in Schererville, Munster, Merrillville and Calumet City, found roughly 15% of Northwest Indiana residents go to Chicago for health care.

"Residents of Northwest Indiana often travel to Chicago for access to specialists, and the expansion of health care providers to the Region will help bring those specialists closer and improve access," Pollak said. "While existing health care providers likely won’t compete directly with these new providers, if greater expansion follows, we will likely see the health care industry in Northwest Indiana become more competitive. Ultimately, greater access to specialists and increased competition will benefit Northwest Indiana residents and help improve overall public health."

The Chicago hospitals making incursions into the Northwest Indiana market will compete with major players in the Calumet Region health care sector like Franciscan Health, Community Healthcare System, Northwest Health Indiana and Methodist Hospitals.

Northwest Indiana health care providers also have been pursuing upgrades, such as new Franciscan Hospitals in Michigan City and Crown Point. Community Healthcare System opened the new Community Stroke and Rehabilitation Center specialty hospital in Crown Point. Lakeshore Bone and Joint Institute opened a new 40,000-square-foot facility in the Beacon Hill development at the northeast corner of 109th Avenue and Delaware Street just off of Interstate 65. The doctor-owned NW Indiana ER & Hospital also recently opened off the Borman Expressway in Hammond.

"Health care is a competitive business," Purdue University Northwest clinical associate professor of finance and economic development Anthony B. Sindone said. "To keep up with increased competition, current providers are innovating by using technology to provide better outcomes for patients. This should result in improvements in public health."

Public health has been a persistent concern in Indiana, which lags behind other states in many health metrics, Sindone said.

"Indiana ranks relatively low in health care outcomes. We rank approximately 32nd in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report; 23rd in Health Care Access, 27th in Health Care Quality, and 40th in Public Health," he said. "It follows, therefore, that there is a market for improving and expanding health care supply to meet the health care demands of the people of Indiana and Northwest Indiana."

The area's economic growth also is attracting new health care providers.

"Demand for health care is rising steadily due to increasing and aging population we observe here in Northwest Indiana," Sindone said. "According to the U.S. Census Bureau, our population has grown by more than 2000 people since the pandemic. We are projecting a more than 10% increase in our state’s population by 2050. Illinois, in contrast, is losing population to Indiana. It makes sense, then, that there are opportunities for health care providers to move to where their patients are or projected to be."

Methodist Hospitals President and CEO Matt Doyle said the Calumet Region's established health care systems were used to the competition in what was already a competitive market.

"Chicago hospitals looking for patients in Northwest Indiana is nothing new — it has been going on for decades," he said. "Methodist Hospitals has always worked to provide high-level services to our community so they don't need to turn to Chicago hospitals. However, we have created partnerships with Chicago academic medical centers when it benefits our patients and serves our mission. A recent example is our partnership with the University of Chicago to provide telestroke and complex cardiovascular surgical services to our patients."
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