Melrose Park community fights to save Westlake Hospital

By Kevin Beese Staff reporter

Westlake Hospital will close if its new owner, Pipeline Health, get its way. Pipeline has petitioned the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to close the Melrose Park health facility. The village of Melrose Park has gone to court seeking to stop the closing from occurring. (Rick Hibbert/Chronicle Media)

Near west suburban leaders and residents are rallying to try to keep an area safety-net hospital from closing its doors.

The new owner of Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park is seeking to close the care facility just weeks after purchasing it and allegedly promising to make no changes at any of the three hospitals obtained in a purchase agreement.

“People are going to die,” if Westlake closes, state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Westchester) warned.

Welch, who is also chairman of the board of trustees for Westlake, said that all the paperwork and promises from Pipeline Health officials ensured that no changes would be occurring at any of the three hospitals for at least two years.

Pipeline bought Westlake, West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, and Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago from Tenet Healthcare for $70 million in January.

“They were dishonest,” Welch said of Pipeline officials. “All the while they were saying they were going to invest in all the hospitals when they were really only interested in two of the three.”

Welch said that Westlake is a safety-net hospital where area residents are assured to get treatment despite their ability to pay.

The Westlake board chairman said closing their Melrose Park hospital obviously was always in the plans of Pipeline officials.

Chris Welch, chairman of the board of trustees for Westlake

“It was their intention all along. You don’t say that you’re not going to close a hospital and then two weeks later say you are closing it,” Welch said.

Melrose Park has filed for an injunction seeking to stop the shuttering process at Westlake until a Cook County judge determines whether Pipeline committed fraud in taking steps to close the hospital after promising it would remain open.

Welch, who has been board chairman at Westlake since 2010, said closing the facility would have a huge impact on the community.

“It is a safety-net hospital,” Welch said, noting that more than half of the region’s charity care takes place at Westlake. “There are 630 employees, many of whom live in the community.”

He added that the hospital’s closing would greatly impact the local economy.

According to Welch, Westlake is many area residents only source of health care because of the charity care the facility offers.

Melrose Park officials contend in the lawsuit that Pipeline officials’ alleged fraud should entitle the village to money from the health care company, although no potential damage amount is listed in the lawsuit.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Service Review Board is accepting letters from community members about the proposed closing of the hospital. Letters concerning the 230-bed acute care hospital at 1225 W. Lake St., Melrose Park, will be accepted through April 10. Written comments can be submitted to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, 525 W. Jefferson St., Second Floor, Springfield, IL 62761.

The closing of Westlake will be discussed at the next Review Board meeting, which will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 30 at Bolingbrook Golf Course, 2001 Rodeo Drive.

Pipeline plans to close its Westlake facility 45 days after approval from the Review Board.

Pipeline is Westlake’s third for-profit owner since Welch has led the board of directors.

“All three have gotten Westlake and proceeded to suck the profits out of it,” Welch said.