Board to decide Oak Forest Hospital fate

May 10, 2011 (OAK FOREST, Ill.)

Officials could be ending some services at Oak Forest Hospital, and those major changes could affect people who rely on county healthcare services. Those people would have to find another place to go. The hospital could turn into an outpatient center, meaning Oak Forest Hospital would do away with hospital beds, intensive care and long-term services.

Officials say making the cuts would save $35 million to $50 million per year. Protesters say the facility is the only place in the south suburbs for people without health insurance to go for hospital service. They are also concerned because they may have to move people who are on ventilators. A county spokesperson says that many people will have to be moved to other nearby hospitals.

"If they can get through the clutter and see the reality, we will have more services at Oak Forest, more things that the community needs. The people who are not here today are the people who will be coming to get services that they will not be getting today," said Lucio Guerrero, Cook County Hospitals spokesperson.

"There are no other hospitals that can help with the overload. With the unemployment rate at 9 percent across the state of illinois, 15 percent in the southwest suburbs, more and more people are unemployed and need health care. We have to keep that hospital open," said William Beavers, county commissioner, 4th District.

"When they finish what they are planning to do, we will have a county system that will be substandard to the rest of the country," said Lee Mayberry, an Oak Forest patient who is blind and says he is fighting a brain tumor.

Cook County health officials say the move would save money as healthcare costs skyrocket and the county says they can't afford to run the hospital.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board issued an intent to deny the county permission to end long-term care in March, saying that it would cause a shortage of services. The county says that the changes to the format would benefit people and improve specialized care, and that full hospital services are available in other facilities in the area.

The board will also be considering the closure of Kenneth Hall Regional Hospital in East St. Louis, which is operated by the nonprofit Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation and has lost $5 million a year since 2000. The foundation has been consolidating care at a nearby sister hospital for several years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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