Monday, February 18, 2019 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 4:30 p.m.
Featured image: State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch with state Rep. Kathleen Willis, right, during a Feb. 18 demonstration outside of Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park. Welch and other community leaders have vowed to fight the hospital’s impending closure. | Alexa Rogals
A shivering crowd of at least 40 people gathered under snowfall and in 20-degree weather on Monday morning just across the street from Westlake to protest the recent decision by the hospital’s new owner to close the institution.
But area lawmakers and community leaders, including members of PASO West Suburban Action Project, the Melrose Park organization that organized the demonstration, told TV news crews that they won’t take the news sitting down.
The demonstration had originally been scheduled to happen on Westlake’s grounds, but the organizers said that they were denied access by hospital employees, forcing them onto the lawn of a home across the street from the facility.
State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) called for a state investigation into the matter. Welch, who is also a Westlake Hospital trustee, said that he was informed of Westlake’s closing on Friday from a voicemail message left by Dr. Eric Whitaker — TWG’s founder, a vice president with Pipeline Health and a close friend of former president Barack Obama.
Pipeline purchased Westlake, West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park and Weiss Memorial in Chicago’s Uptown community from Tenet Healthcare for $70 million. At the time, Pipeline Health executives told media outlets and elected officials that they were committed to all three hospitals.
“Just like I told Eric Whitaker on Friday — we are not going to let them close these doors!” Welch said.
Welch recalled that “every single time” Pipeline Health officials spoke with hospital trustees during the purchase process, “they told us they wanted this hospital to invest in it, not close it. They said they believed in community, that they believe in the commission of community hospitals like Westlake.”
Proviso Township High Schools District 209 board members Theresa Kelly and Claudia Medina during the Feb. 18 demonstration. | Alexa Rogals
Welch added that he contacted the Attorney General’s office on Friday “and asked them to investigate whether [Pipeline] intentionally misrepresented and committed fraud” during the process of purchasing the three hospitals. He said that he’s already fielded inquiries from other investors looking into the possibility of purchasing Westlake from Pipeline Health.
Before acquiring the hospitals, Pipeline Health had to file papers with the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, which “approves or disapproves applications for construction or expansion of health care facilities to avoid unnecessary duplication of such facilities and promotes development of facilities in areas where needed,” according to its website.
Pipeline Health officials said that they plan to file an application next week with the Review Board to close Westlake. If the application is approved, the closure could be finalized by the second quarter of this year.
State Rep. Kathleen Willis (77th), whose district includes Westlake, said that she’s “been on the phone non-stop” since learning about Pipeline Health’s decision.
‘I’ve been talking to the governor’s office, I’ve been talking to the deputy governor, I’ve been talking to colleagues in the House of Representatives,” she said. “We’re going to hold the new owners of Westlake Hospital accountable. They stood before this community, before elected officials, before the regulatory board and said they had no intention of closing down this hospital.”
Demonstrators during the Feb. 18 protest outside of Westlake Hospital. | Alexa Rogals
Sergio Suarez — the president of the North American Institute for Mexican Advancement (NAIMA), a Melrose Park-based nonprofit, and the owner of a restaurant near Westlake — said that the small businesses that serve patients and employees of the hospital will suffer if it closes.
“This is bad for business, it’s bad for government, but most of all, it’s bad for underprivileged families who see Westlake as their only provider,” Suarez said.
“The closing of Westlake Hospital is a betrayal to our communities as it is a trusted resource and provider of healthcare services where very few resources exist,” said Lilian Jimenez, PASO’s associate director.
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.”
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.
In a statement released Feb. 16, Pipeline Health CEO and partial owner Jim 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.”
In a statement released Feb. 18, Pipeline Health officials said that they are investing $2.5 million over the next five years “to provide affordable and accessible community healthcare to Melrose Park.”
The investment includes allowing PCC Wellness Center, 1111 Superior St. in Melrose Park, to remain open “and expanding needed services with a $100,000 annual grant for five years.”
Officials said that they will also explore ways to provide Melrose Park residents with outpatient services, such as prenatal care and behavioral health. VFP
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