JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) — A state board voted Tuesday to allow Cook County to close Oak Forest Hospital and turn the facility into a regional outpatient center.
As WBBM’s Lisa Fielding reports, a reconstituted Illinois Health Facilities And Services Review Board voted 7-1 on Tuesday on the county’s second request to close the hospital, despite an emotional protest. A ninth board member voted present.
In May, the board denied the county’s first request to close the hospital, but since then three new board members have been appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Lisa Fielding reports
The lone “no” vote Tuesday came from Ronald Eaker of Urbana, whose May vote against the plan kept it from going forward because other seats on the board were vacant. Since then, Gov. Pat Quinn has appointed three new members who all voted for the plan.
The latest vote allows the facility to be converted into a regional outpatient center.
Dr. Terry Mason, interim CEO of the county’s health system, said a new CT scanner will be installed for the outpatient center at Oak Forest and during the first year the facility expects 115,000 outpatient visits.
County officials have said the delay has meant $2 million each month in unexpected costs to keep the hospital open this summer.
William McNary, co-director of the public interest group “Citizen Action,” said residents in the south suburbs don’t need more clinics, they need a hospital.
“We’re gonna make sure that the surrounding hospitals step up to the plate. We’re gonna make sure that this ROC, this regional outpatient center is state-of-the-art and high quality,” McNary said.
He also said that many south suburban residents have depended on Oak Forest Hospital as their sole source of convenient and affordable health care.
“I’m disappointed about the outcome, but we’re going to go forward and make sure that the needs of those patients out there in the Southland area are continually represented before this board,” McNary said.
He called the south suburban area a health care desert and said the closure of Oak Forest will seriously impact the community.
The county plans to close the hospital by Sept. 1
The vote included a requirement that county officials return in a year to update the board on the plan to convert Oak Forest Hospital into an outpatient center and on their attempts to get other hospitals to take former patients.
As of Tuesday, there were still nine long-term patients being treated at Oak Forest. The county plans to transfer those patients to other hospitals by Sept. 1.
It will take about three years to convert Oak Forest to an outpatient facility, but patients will continue to be seen on an outpatient basis during that time and a 24/7 immediate care center will replace the current emergency room from the start of the conversion.
Before announcing his vote, Eaker criticized county officials for “dismantling” the hospital’s services starting many years ago and then claiming the hospital was underused as a reason for its closure.
“Some have used the analogy of Oak Forest being on life support and now you’re using this board to pull the plug,” Eaker said.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she was grateful for the board’s approval, but she called it “demeaning and extremely unfortunate” that some protesters who wanted to see the hospital remain open used the word “genocide” as the board prepared to vote.
However, Preckwinkle said she understood the concerns of the protesters were “deeply felt.”
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