You cannot drive around our region lately or watch the news and not see evidence of the growing importance of healthcare in Greater Peoria. The proof is in the numbers: In 2021, over 17% of the entire workforce was employed in the healthcare industry, our largest employment sector (over 30,000 people). Greater Peoria boasts six hospitals, dozens of specialty services and clinics, seven institutions of higher learning that offer medical education, one of Illinois’ largest ambulance service providers in Advanced Medical Transport, great agencies like Heartland Health Services, and a burgeoning medical startup scene. As important as all of that is, through an economic development lens, I’m particularly excited about where we are headed as a region. In particular, two projects underway will not only result in better care for our citizens, but also transform the way our community is viewed: OSF Healthcare’s Cancer Institute and UnityPoint Health’s Young Minds Initiative.
If you haven’t recently driven through OSF Healthcare’s East Bluff campus, you are missing out on watching an amazing construction project. The $230 million (+) Cancer Institute is rising out of the ground and will soon be home to the most cutting edge cancer treatment in the world. The proton beam therapy that will soon be available in Peoria is a game changer for cancer patients, reducing the time and side effects of treatment while improving outcomes. There are only about 50 such machines in the world at the moment, and only one other in Illinois. The economic impact cannot really be overstated. The construction process alone is creating hundreds of jobs. The facility itself will expand OSF’s roster of employees and the spend that comes with those new jobs. When open, the facility will provide world class treatment to our citizens, allowing them to stay at home rather than travel to places like the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN to find healing. Moreover, the Cancer Institute will be a magnet to others seeking the same services. Those visitors don’t just pop in for a session and go home – they often stay for days or even weeks, spending dollars at local hotels, restaurants and shops.
Across the bluffs in West Peoria, UnityPoint Health recently announced the purchase of a former nursing home facility from Peoria County to be the home of their greatly expanded behavioral health services for adolescents. Behavioral health concerns are on the rise. According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, the rates of mood disorders and suicide-related events have significantly increased in the last decade within adolescents and young adults. The new facility will double the capacity for in-patient treatment of significant behavioral health issues in our most vulnerable populations. The center will offer a full suite of services, not just for its residential patients but for the entire community. Like the Cancer Institute, the Young Minds Initiative will serve both the youth and families of Greater Peoria and those from outside the region that need these services but cannot find them in their own communities.
From an economic perspective, improved and accessible services for physical and behavioral health issues for our citizens makes us a healthier and hence more employable and productive community. As pointed out above, world class facilities and programs also attract visitors seeking these services, and the dollars they bring with them. But consider this additional impact these two projects will have on Greater Peoria: They might be the reason people choose to live (or stay) here. As our society and workforce become increasingly more mobile, “quality of life” factors will become more important in where people decide to live. What is more important to one’s quality of life than having the latest in healthcare in your own backyard? As we build our talent attraction campaign you can be sure that our amazing healthcare systems and services will be prominently featured.
Every region in America has healthcare facilities and the industry grows ever more important across the country. But for a region its size, Greater Peoria boasts a healthcare infrastructure that much bigger cities would love to have. I’m looking forward to these two projects to be completed, and anxious to learn what might be next.