Sunday, February 17, 2019 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, where Westlake’s in-patient services will be located once the Melrose Park hospital closes, according to Pipeline Health officials. | File
Representatives with Pipeline Health, LLC and TWG Partners — the two for-profit entities that purchased Westlake Hospital in January before announcing over the weekend plans to close the hospital — recently explained their motives in a recent statement and Chicago Tribune interview.
In the statement, released Feb. 16, Pipeline Health officials said that they plan to file an application next week with the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to close the 230-bed hospital at 1225 W. Lake St. in Melrose Park.
If the application is approved, the closure could be finalized by the second quarter of 2019, officials said. Westlake employs around 670 people, 200 of them “on an as-needed basis,” officials added.
“The competitive healthcare environment in Illinois along with a decrease in patient demand and the rapidly changing role of hospitals in healthcare delivery have resulted in an unsustainable financial strain on Westlake for many years,” Pipeline Health officials said in a statement.
They added that Westlake’s in-patient services, including gynecology, intensive care and obstetrics, among others, will be consolidated with West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park.
Pipeline Health bought three hospitals — Westlake, West Suburban and Weiss Memorial in Chicago — from Tenet Healthcare for $70 million in January.
Earlier this month, when he was asked what attracted him to Pipeline, Dr. Eric Whitaker, the founder of TWG Partners and Pipeline’s vice chair and principal, told Crain’s that Westlake “really believed in putting community first.”
Whitaker added that the hospital believes “in quality care. They believe in being the lowest cost provider. And so all of these things I think are important in hospitals because I think there are one-off community hospitals in danger all over this country.”
And in January, Jim Edwards, the CEO of Pipeline and a partial owner of the company, told the Chicago Tribune that he wasn’t “put out by the fact that these hospitals have some issues and problems from a financial perspective. We feel strongly with our resources, our finances, our experience we can come in and make a difference, and, for lack of a better way to put it, save these hospitals.”
In a Feb. 17 Chicago Tribune article, however, Whitaker told reporters that closing Westlake will allow West Suburban and Weiss to remain financially sustainable.
He added that Westlake lost $9 million in 2017 and was set to lose even more this year. Whitaker explained to Tribune reporters that he told local leaders that “all options were on the table,” even though the new owners did not originally intend to close any of the three hospitals.
“As we looked at the financials, the losses had accelerated tremendously and it was beyond what we had projected,” Whitaker told the Tribune. “To the extent that we would have to pour a lot of capital into Westlake, it really would have endangered the other two hospitals we had as part of the purchase.”
The announcement still incensed local lawmakers, particularly Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico and state Representatives Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Kathleen Willis — all of whom vowed to fight the closing.
“When I found out about TWG and Pipeline’s true intention to close Westlake Hospital, I was deeply disappointed and hurt,” Welch, a former Westlake trustee, said in a statement.
“The entire time we have been led to believe that they were going to invest in Westlake, not close it. We have been intentionally misled.”
In Pipeline Health’s statement, Edwards said that consolidating the strengths of Westlake and West Suburban “will create a stronger, more financially stable hospital.”
Edwards called the decision to close Westlake and consolidate in-patient services with West Suburban “difficult, but necessary,” adding that he and his team are “working closely with local leaders and elected officials on innovative solutions to ensure the community gets the personalized, accessible care they need.”
Pipeline Health officials said that they’ll invite qualified Westlake employees to apply for positions at West Suburban or Weiss Memorial, and that a community shuttle between Melrose Park and West Suburban in Oak Park “is also in the works.” VFP
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