CHICAGO (CBS) — The owners of Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park will be in court Tuesday morning, to face accusations they violated a Cook County judge’s order preventing them from changing staffing levels or reducing services.
Judge Eve Reilly issued the temporary restraining order last week, after the hospital’s owners announced they would be suspending services.
Employees said, even after the judge’s order, Pipeline Health continued efforts to move equipment out of the hospital and fire staff.
“The rehab unit, some of the nurses were told to turn in their badges at the end of the shift today to transfer their patients,” nurse Mari Collins said. “The ICU nurses told me they were talking about getting patients transferred as well.”
Nurse Tamara Venturella said she’s frustrated the judge’s order has not held up.
“It seems like we went to court for nothing,” Venturella said. “We’re trying to save this hospital and it seems like they’re defying the order. This was a court order and they should be following it.”
Melrose Park officials want the owners of Westlake Hospital and Westlake’s CEO held in contempt of court. A hearing has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday. The village also is asking the judge to issue fines of more than $666,000 per day.
Pipeline Health has denied it is violating the judge’s order, and said it has maintained the same level of service as before the restraining order was issued.
Pipeline Health System said the move to temporarily suspend inpatient admissions and surgeries at Westlake Hospital last week was the result of losses of nearly $2 million a month, because of “declining inpatient stays,” citing an average hospital bed occupancy of 30 percent. The company said, in February, it filed an application with the Illinois Health Facilities & Services Board, seeking permission to close the hospital.
Attorneys for Pipeline said the hospital already had curtailed services at Westlake before the judge’s order, and have not changed services since. They also said employees are being retained and are still getting paid until the hospital board makes a decision on how to move forward.
Melrose Park’s Mayor Ron Serpico and other members of the community traveled to Springfield last week to ask lawmakers for help.
“What troubles me the most is the folks affected by this are black and brown, the people that are most vulnerable, and I hated to see it become a green issue,” Serpico said.
Ari Scharg, the attorney for Melrose Park, asked employees to get in touch with him so they’ll have more evidence to present in their case at Tuesday’s hearing.
Doctors and nurses said, after Pipeline completed an acquisition of the hospital in January, the company created an environment where they would end up shutting down Westlake.
“They must have a motivation that we don’t know,” Dr. Nabil Saleh said. “It definitely has to be financial somehow. So they are compromising the safety of the patients and the health of the community for profits,” Dr. Nabil Saleh said.
Several witnesses were scheduled to testify at Tuesday’s hearing.