Cook County had planned to close the south suburban hospital June 1. Protesters argued the closure would have forced Oak Forest patients into nursing homes.
The county needed five members of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to support its plan to close inpatient care at Oak Forest Hospital. Of the five members present, only four voted in favor of the county. The panel had indicated at previous meetings that it would reject the county's proposal.
Throughout the day, the board listened to a heated debate about the future of emergency and inpatient services at the cash-strapped hospital.
"I'm not a wealthy man. I have to go where I can afford to be sick, and I can only afford to be sick throughout the county system," said Lee Mayberry, Oak Forest Hospital patient.
An outspoken group of patients and employees argued in favor of maintaining inpatient care, saying that without it they would have a shortage of easily accessible long-term care in the south suburbs.
"These patients are scared because they don't want to go to long term nursing care because there will be 20 patients to one nurse," said Tya Robinson-May, nurse.
For the past few years, the Cook County board has worked on a plan to close inpatient care at Oak Forest, saying it's a drain on finances and resources.
Dr. Terry Mason, interim CEO of the Cook County hospital system, says out of 213 beds, only 30 are occupied at a cost of $4,000 per patient. He says Oak Forest can better serve people with expanded outpatient services. But the state panel denied the county's request to make the conversion as advocates celebrated.
"I am excited about the vote, and I am excited that someone heard the citizens of the southland community," said Betty Boles, SEIU Local 73.
"There has to be a regional system of care and that care has to include comprehensive outpatient as well as inpatient services," said Linda Delaforgue, Citizen Action Illinois.
Disappointed county officials said they have to look at what their options are now.
"We were hopeful that we would receive the support of health facility board today, and it's kind of back to the drawing board for us," said Preckwinkle.
Preckwinkle previously suggested that the county would challenge the state's authority but stopped short of saying that this time. County officials have said that closing inpatient care at Oak Forest would have saved the county $25 million.