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Pritzker ousts two state board appointees after Westlake Hospital closing

Julie Hamos, then director of state Healthcare and Family Services in 2013. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Less than a week after a state review board voted unanimously to allow the owners of Westlake Hospital to close the Melrose Park facility, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday ousted his two appointees to the board.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board on April 30 voted 7-to-0 to approve Pipeline Health’s application to close the hospital, after a vote to defer the closure couldn’t clear the board. The final vote came despite opposition from Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico. The west suburban mayor called on Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to investigate the decision.

But Melrose Park’s effort to halt the closing of the hospital at 1225 W. Lake St. worked temporarily thanks to a restraining order that expires on Tuesday. Village attorneys were in court last week for a hearing on their new lawsuit, which seeks a review of the state board’s decision.

On Monday, the governor’s office said the administration is withdrawing the nominations of Julie Hamos and Michael Gelder “in order to appoint members who more closely share the governor’s vision for hospitals around the state.”

Hamos is a former Democratic state representative from Evanston, who also served as director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Gelder served on Pritzker’s transition team on the Healthy Children and Families Committee. He is a former state official and adjunct lecturer of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“We appreciate their willingness to serve,” Pritzker spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement. “The governor’s priority is to work with communities to ensure their health care needs are met.”

Pritzker’s appointees were criticized over the decision to close by Westlake Board Chairman Emanuel “Chris” Welch, who is also a Democratic state representative from Hillside and Serpico, who said “neither of them stood up for health care access” in Melrose Park.

Then Democratic gubernatorial nominee J.B. Pritzker, Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, and Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico. From Facebook.
Then Democratic gubernatorial nominee J.B. Pritzker, Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, and Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico. From Facebook.
From Facebook.

Those opposed to the hospital’s closure had hoped the board would defer Pipeline Health’s application to close until pending lawsuits by the village and the Cook County state’s attorney are resolved. The village is suing Pipeline, claiming the company fraudulently purchased the hospital.

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Pipeline, a California-based health care network, bought Westlake in January for $70 million. It was one of three Chicago-area hospitals Tenet Healthcare sold to Pipeline Health and TWG Partners, a health care investment firm founded by Eric Whitaker.

Whitaker, a close friend of former President Barack Obama, served as director of Illinois Department of Public Health and executive vice president and associate dean at the University of Chicago Medicine.

Contributing: Stefano Esposito, Manny Ramos