Public hearing held on future of Oak Forest Hospital

April 18, 2011 3:20:23 PM PDT
While Cook county officials argue Oak Forest Hospital of Cook County is underutilized, long-term patients and staff are concerned about where they would go.

It was standing room only at the public hearing on the Cook County Health and Hospital Systems' proposal to close Oak Forest Hospital's long-term care services. The county wants to turn the hospital into an outpatient health center.

Patients, Oak Forest residents and staff all raised their hands in opposition Monday.

"They are going to murder the patients of Oak Forest Hospital. They talk about servicing more patients but what about the patients they already have? Just throw them into the street," Lee Mayberry said.

"It would be in the best interest for the board, but certainly not for the people to close Oak Forest Hospital," Randy Ruff, resident, said.

"Oak Forest Hospital saved my life. I wouldn't be here today if it was not for Oak Forest Hospital," Shirley Donklin.

County officials say the hospital's long-term operation has to end by June 1 to balance the budget. They say the decision was not made lightly and that annual expenditures to maintain the hospital cost taxpayers $91 million a year.

"We have wanted to make the best use of our resources and we feel we can expand our services for our patients by closing the inpatient services and expanding outpatient services," William Forley, Cook County Health and Hospital Systems, said.

"he continued operation of an underutilized hospital is a misplaced use of the county's health resources," Chief Medical Officer Terry Mason said. Dr. Mason said there are currently only 40 inpatients but the hospital was built to house about 1,100. The 1.2 million square foot facility with 41 buildings sits on 340 acres. The hospital is licensed for 231 beds. The emergency room does not accept ambulance runs. Cook County Health Care officials spoke about partnering with area hospitals to absorb the Oak Forest Hospital patient population. But patients said transportation is a major hardship and a trip from Oak Forest to Stroger Hospital could take hours on public transit.

"My mom has to come every four weeks which would make it impossible to make it Stroger Hospital," said Joyce Edmund.

A state board will consider the future of Oak Forest Hospital on May 10.