Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park finds new life

By Kevin Beese Staff Reporter

Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park

Westlake Hospital is open for business after a series of twists, turns and court decisions, including one from the Illinois Supreme Court.

“I would need a scorecard to keep track, if I was not in the middle of this,” Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico said of the whirlwind of decisions last week regarding the hospital in his community.

Pipeline Health, owner of the Melrose Park hospital since January, is still looking to close the care facility, but will be required to operate the facility until a decision is made on the hospital’s future.

For more than a week, the hospital was on bypass, with ambulances not taking any person to Westlake who might need to be admitted. Pipeline officials said they had neither the equipment nor manpower to be fully operational.

However, a Cook County judge last week gave the company until April 18 to get the beleaguered hospital fully operational or face a $200,000 daily fine.

On April 18, an appellate court ruled that the company had a right to operate on bypass, with limited staff and equipment, until the state Health Facilities Review Board makes a decision on the hospital’s fate next week (April 30). However, hours later, the Illinois Supreme Court granted a stay of that lower-court ruling, meaning the hospital had to return to full operations.

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Westchester), who has been at the forefront of the fight to save the hospital, said that if the appellate court had been the last word in the case, Pipeline “would have gone back in and pretty much emptied the hospital, trying to temporarily shut it down.”

“They would have stopped people from coming to the hospital. They would have laid off anyone left,” Welch said. “It would have made anything the Review Board does moot. It was an important thing the Supreme Court did. It allows the critically important Review Board decision to have any meaning.”

Pipeline officials have said they are losing $2 million per month by keeping Westlake open. Another time, representatives of the California health care company said the Melrose Park hospital is losing $630,000 per day.

Pipeline officials could not be reached for comment as of press time.

“I can’t speculate for them, but it would seem the longer they hold onto the hospital, the worse it is for them,” said Welch, who is also chairman of the Westlake board of directors. “It is hard to know the truth. They say they are losing $2 million a month and then they say they are losing $630,000 a day. If they are losing money like they claim they are losing money, every day they should be considering getting rid of it.”

Pipeline bought Westlake and two other area hospitals — West Suburban in Oak Park and Weiss in Chicago — from Tenant in January. Two weeks after the deal with through, Pipeline said it needed to close Westlake, despite having stated that no changes would take place at any of the hospitals for at least two years.

“I’ve said from Day 1 that I think their objective was to sell the hospital,” Welch said of Westlake. “I probably get an inquiry a day from an interested buyer.”

Welch said representatives of the interested companies tell him that Pipeline officials have not returned their calls and emails.

“These are legitimate companies,” Welch said.

He said Pipeline doesn’t have the care of residents in the Melrose area in their thoughts when looking to close the hospital.

“We’ve gotten nothing from them but deceit and stunts,” the Westlake board chairman said. “They offered to give Melrose Park the hospital via press release. They did not event talk to the village. They have no intention of giving the hospital to Melrose Park. They disobey the law and trample the rights of community residents in the area.”

Melrose Park’s Serpico said he doesn’t believe Pipeline thought they would have a fight on their hands when trying to close Westlake.

“I don’t think they thought they would meet with resistance,” Serpico said. “They thought we would put our head between our legs and say, ‘What a terrible situation,’ and move on.”

Welch said community leaders and residents will continue to fight for the hospital, which provides much of the area’s charity care.

“We have a lot of people who support keeping the hospital open,” Welch said. “We are pushing on all cylinders against Pipeline.”

On Friday, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx added her office’s weight behind Melrose Park’s effort, joining the case as a plaintiff.

“Critically, Westlake is a ‘safety net’ hospital, meaning that it will not turn away patients that cannot pay for medical care,” Foxx’s emergency motion to join the case stated. “As the one and only safety net hospital in the area, Westlake provides significant levels of services and care to thousands of low-income and medically vulnerable community members, including Medicaid beneficiaries and the uninsured.”