CHICAGO (CBS) — An Illinois Appellate Court panel has lifted a Cook County judge’s restraining order that had prohibited the owners of Westlake Hospital from reducing services as they seek state permission to permanently close the hospital.
Judge Eve Reilly had issued the temporary restraining order last week, after Pipeline Health announced it was suspending services at Westlake – halting inpatient admissions and surgeries and working to discharge and transfer current patients. Pipeline had completed a purchase of Westlake in January, but surprised local officials in February when it filed an application with the Illinois Health Facilities & Services Board, seeking permission to close the hospital, after earlier pledging to keep the hospital open.
The Village of Melrose Park sued over the closure plan, and asked for a restraining order to block Pipeline from reducing services before the Health Facilities & Services Board could rule on Pipeline’s application to close the hospital at a hearing scheduled for April 30.
However, a three-judge panel of the Illinois Appellate Court issued a unanimous ruling Thursday that Melrose Park had no standing to seek a temporary restraining order, and reversed Reilly’s ruling.
“The Village has not identified any ascertainable right or interest recognized by common law or statute that is at stake in this matter. While the Village abstractly asserts that Westlake’s closure is ‘a matter of public interest,’ this does not translate into the direct interest required to obtain a TRO,” the court wrote.
It’s not clear what immediate impact the appeals court ruling will have on services at Westlake.
“We are pleased the appellate court has ruled in our favor, and we are now working to lift the order completely,” said Pipeline Health CEO Jim Edwards. “We need to get back to investing in patients and not buildings.”
Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico said the appeals court ruling “does not erase the fact that Pipeline Health broke Illinois law by discontinuing services at Westlake Hospital.
“Melrose Park has worked tirelessly to hold Pipeline Health accountable to the law. According to the ruling today, only the Attorney General or State’s Attorney can enforce the Health Facilities Planning Act,” Serpico added in a statement Thursday afternoon. “Pipeline cannot be allowed to continue to break Illinois law without consequences and Melrose Park is looking at all options to hold Pipeline accountable, including requesting the Attorney General or State’s Attorney to intervene to protect health care access to the residents of Melrose Park.”
The court’s ruling came after Pipeline appeared to have met another judge’s ruling to return services at Westlake to normal. Judge Moshe Jacobius had ruled Pipeline Health in contempt of court earlier this week, after Westlake employees said Pipeline continued to cut back services after Reilly issued the restraining order.
Jacobius ordered Pipeline to reopen the intensive care unit, inpatient services, obstetrics, and mental health care at Westlake and keep them in place until May 1, when both sides go back to court, or face fines of $200,000 per day.
It appeared services at Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park were back to normal on Thursday. Staff at the hospital said they were operating like it’s business as usual, and Village of Melrose Park officials said nearly all services at the hospital had been restored.
“I hope that we can continue to stay open, and be able to service Melrose and the surrounding area,” labor and delivery nurse Jeanne Lubbers said.
Lubber said the staff’s focus has remained on treating their patients throughout the court fight over the future of the hospital.
“We love taking care of our patients, so we want to continue with business as usual, and we have had full staff to take care of them, regardless of what they have said,” Lubber said.
On Wednesday, Pipeline offered to transfer control of the hospital to the Village of Melrose Park, but the village called the offer a “publicity stunt,” and accused the company of trying to deflect its responsibility to run a hospital they promised to keep open at least two years.
“If Pipeline Health and [vice chair] Eric Whitaker are serious about transferring ownership of Westlake Hospital to Melrose Park, they should send an actual offer with terms for the Village to review, instead of offering the hospital via press release as a publicity stunt,” Melrose Park spokesman Andrew Mack stated in an email. “The Mayor of Melrose Park is calling on Pipeline Health and Eric Whitaker to produce their financial records so that the village can do its due diligence.”
Pipeline has said its efforts to close Westlake are 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 hospital’s owners said, before they closed on the purchase, state lawmakers voted down $4 million in funding for Westlake, and Melrose Park’s village board voted to withdraw $500,000 for a redevelopment plan.
“Although Westlake’s public representatives have seemingly been content to disinvest in Westlake for years, now is their chance to put their money where their mouth is,” Pipeline CEO Jim Edwards said in a statement about the offer to hand over the hospital to Melrose Park.
Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico said the village has never claimed it would be able to run a hospital, and that Pipeline promised it “would be able to successfully run the hospital” when it purchased Westlake, despite the hospital’s financial problems.
“They were aware of all of the financial conditions associated with Westlake. They were also under an obligation to exercise due diligence in all financial matters prior to the purchase,” Serpico said.
Pipeline said, if the village declines its offer, the company expects the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to approve its application to close Westlake at a hearing on April 30.