Saturday, August 10, 2019 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews
Featured image: The lobby inside of Westlake Hospital’s professional building, which saw a steady stream of patients on Aug. 10. | Michael Romain
Despite a bankruptcy filing on Aug. 6 and a Crain’s report on Aug. 7 about an internal memo from hospital executives ordering the facility to be emptied of admitted patients, Westlake Hospital, 1225 W. Lake St. in Melrose Park, was still open on Aug. 10.
On Saturday afternoon, a steady stream of patients flowed in and out of the hospital’s professional building. An ambulance was parked outside of the building. And a parking lot immediately east of the building was mostly full (surrounding lots to the south and west were mostly empty).
On Friday, one patient, Sharon Miller, told ABC 7 that she had been inside of the emergency room.
“They took care of me,” she said. “I feel better, and I was in and out of there within an hour.”
On Aug. 6, Pipeline Health, the California-based company that has owned Westlake since January, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, according to a Crain’s report.
Pipeline officials claim that the 230-bed hospital, which treats many low-income, uninsured and/or under-insured patients, is only 20 percent utilized and is losing nearly $3 million a month.
Until that point, Pipeline had been trying for months to close Westlake in a battle that has prompted the ire of local elected officials, including Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico, state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), state Rep. Kathleen Willis (77th) and even Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
In March, Melrose Park sued Pipeline and several of its principals, including Dr. Eric Whitaker, a prominent Chicago physician and friend of former president Barack Obama, for committing fraud and civil conspiracy while trying to purchase Westlake.
The lawsuit claims that Pipeline lied to village officials and hospital representatives about its plans to close Westlake. At the time, Pipeline called the lawsuit defamatory and false.
In April, the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board voted 7-0 to allow Pipeline Health to close Westlake, but the following month a Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled that the hospital should remain open until the village’s lawsuit is resolved.
On Aug. 7, Westlake CEO Joseph Ottolino and Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee Alfred T. Giuliano released a letter to hospital employees ordering all “admitted patients are to be discharged or transferred to another facility by” Friday at 3 p.m., according to Crain’s reporting.
That same day, the village filed a motion, which Foxx supported, to trying getting the courts to hold Pipeline in contempt. On Friday, according to the Chicago Tribune, “a Cook County judge declined to rule” on the motion. Another court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 14.
“Those most affected should have been given more respect than a letter days before the hospital is set to close,” Foxx explained in a statement. “All county residents deserve access to healthcare and justice regardless of their zip code, economic status, or race. We will continue to advocate through affirmative litigation for safe, healthy communities on behalf of all citizens in Cook County.”
In an Aug. 6 statement, Welch said that instead of “fulfilling promises to assist Westlake, as Pipeline’s CEO Jim Edwards declared earlier this year, the for-profit company turned its back on the hospital and the largely black and brown communities that rely on it. We deserve better than this, and I will not stand by and allow a corporation to gamble with the health and well-being of our community for the sake of profit.”
According to ABC 7, Eli Wade-Scott, an attorney for Melrose Park, said that if Pipeline closes Westlake, they “risk having severe monetary sanctions imposed.”
The bankruptcy case, ABC 7 reported, will be taken up in a Delaware court on Aug. 13. VFP
Read a timeline of some key moments in the Westlake saga here.
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