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Westlake Hospital might close after judge delays contempt ruling

Melrose Park says hospital has told staff it will shut its doors Friday.

Westlake Hospital
Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park
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The emergency room at Westlake Hospital stopped accepting new patients Friday evening, marking the latest escalation in the legal battle between Melrose Park officials and the company that owns the hospital.

This came hours after a Cook County judge told lawyers for the village of Melrose Park that their efforts could lead to fines but may not prevent the hospital’s closure.

An operator told the Chicago Sun-Times that the hospital remained open but had recently stopped admitting new patients. When asked if the hospital would be open tomorrow, the operator said he thought so, but advised visitors to call ahead. Friday, the hospital’s parking lot was nearly empty.

A spokeswoman for Westlake’s owner, Pipeline Health, declined to comment on the decision to cut off new visitors. She directed all inquiries to the U.S. Trustee’s office, which is overseeing the hospital’s bankruptcy proceedings.

The trustee’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lawyers for Melrose Park had asked Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama to hold the company that oversees Westlake in contempt of court for trying to close the hospital, an apparent violation of a judge’s order in May.

But Valderrama said Friday that siding with Melrose Park would only lead to fines against that company, SRC Hospital Investments, not a halt to the closure. The judge postponed until next week a ruling on whether SRC is in contempt of court. He also suggested the issue might be better handled in bankruptcy court, something the village attorneys disputed.

“In effect, you are saying, never mind the bankruptcy, you must stay open,” Valderrama said. “I’m having a hard time with that.”

Melrose Park lawyers have claimed Westlake began transferring patients on Wednesday and told staff of plans to close its doors by the end of the week.

Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico said in a written statement that “nothing that happened in Cook County today has any bearing on Pipeline’s actions” to close the hospital.

“Pipeline has been and continues to be under court order to keep Westlake open,” Serpico went on. “We will continue to fight to keep Westlake open — or if necessary to reopen it — pending resolution of our challenges to their fraudulent and frivolous bankruptcy filing and the litigation we have filed against them in Illinois.”

Westlake filed bankruptcy on Tuesday. The hospital has been losing about $3 million a month and operating with 80% of its beds empty, the hospital said.

Contributing: Nader Issa