Westlake Hospital ordered to restore patient services

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U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., speaks with reporters about the closure of Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park. | Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Westlake Hospital was ordered Tuesday evening to restore patient services or face hefty fines.

Cook County Circuit Judge Moshe Jacobius said hospital owner Pipeline Health must restore services by Thursday morning or will be fined $200,000 a day.

Jacobius found the hospital operator violated a temporary restraining order to maintain services at the 225-bed hospital at 1225 W. Lake St.

Melrose Park village officials have fought to keep the hospital open.

At a court hearing Tuesday, Pipeline Health said staffing issues caused it to suspend services and any violation of the temporary restraining order happened because it was issued after it already began cutting services.

“All of these essential services that the community needs and relies on is back open,” Ari Scharg, Melrose Park’s attorney, said. “Westlake is open for business.”

Jacobius made it clear his ruling only found Pipeline in contempt of the temporary restraining order. He said the state Health Facilities and Services Review Board will need to determine if the hospital will stay open for good. The meeting between the state’s review board and Pipeline Health regarding their certification for closure is scheduled for April 30.

“This hospital is one of the most important backbones of Melrose Park,” Scharg said. “We are fighting for every inch to keep this hospital open for as long as possible.”

Pipeline took issue with the ruling Tuesday.

“While we respectfully disagree with the judge’s ruling today, we will take every step necessary to protect patients and their safety,” Natalie Bauer Luce, spokeswoman for Pipeline Health said in a statement.

Dr. Nabil Saleh, a pediatrician at Westlake Hospital, said he was up since 4 a.m. Tuesday preparing himself for the outcome of the hearing. He sees it as a small victory against the California-based healthcare network that has been “deceitful” to the community he serves.

“We are here because we are committed, we believe we are doing the right thing,” Saleh said. “I feel elated right now, but I was very tense during the day.”

Outside the courtroom Tuesday afternoon, elected officials and community organizers voiced their opposition of Pipeline’s involvement in Melrose Park.

“The closure of this hospital will harm people in my community that is currently being treated in that facility,” said U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill. “Displaced patients, mostly people of color, don’t have other options for their healthcare. Westlake Hospital is a critical asset for Melrose Park and the surrounding community.”

Garcia said Pipeline manufactured its staffing crisis at Westlake by “directing nurses and other staff to find new jobs.”

“Westlake Hospital must remain open until a state board reviews the owner’s application to close the facility,” Garcia said.

Garcia was joined by state Reps. Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Kathleen Willis, who both co-sponsored a bill that would give the governor the power to reverse any decision by the Health Facilities and Services Review Board on a hospital closing. It also would suspend any application to close a hospital until pending lawsuits over the closing are resolved. The bill passed in the Illinois House last week. The bill still needs approval from the state Senate. No date has been set for that.

Welch said Jacobius’ judgment is critical in the fight to keep Westlake Hospital open.

“[The review board] will defer any action on a pending application for closure if there is a pending lawsuit, which we have, and if there is an injunction in place, which we have,” Welch said. “That’s why we filed a lawsuit.”

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.

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