State board to let county close Oak Forest Hospital

August 16, 2011 (JOLIET, Ill.)

The hospital has focused on outpatient services for years. It doesn't have a true ER, stopped admitting new inpatients back in June, and is spending millions to take care of the few that remain.

On paper the county is losing 213 beds, but in practice, this decision will only affect nine patients who will now have to be transferred somewhere else by the end of the month.

"If they have the money to invest in a regional clinic, they have the money to invest in Oak Forest Hospital," said former Oak Forest Hospital nurse Tya Robinson. "We need Trauma 1 unit out in the southland. We do not need to have more patients die going to Stroger."

Despite several hours of sometimes passionate testimony expressed by those who have long fought to keep Oak Forest Hospital open, the Illinois Health Board voted at a meeting in Joliet to close the 213-bed facility, a move that has long been sought by Cook County.

"As we sit here today, the county is spending $2 million a month to operate a hospital with nine patients," said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. "Even prior to June 1, the hospital was spending about $40 million a year to operate a limited service hospital with only 35 to 60 patients."

In fact, it has been years since Oak Forest Hospital has served a significant number of patients. Its facilities are, according to Preckwinkle, massively outdated. She praised the board's decision.

The county's plan is to transform the hospital into a regional outpatient center that would serve up to 115,000 patients a year.

"We have to figure out how we can use the resources we have most effectively and efficiently and serve the greatest number of people," Preckwinkle said. "The focus of the regional outpatient center will be on primary and especially specialty care, which will enable us to serve a great number of people."

Meanwhile, those who opposed the move say what the south suburbs of Cook County need isn't an outpatient center, but more hospital beds in an area that severely lacks them.

"We oppose the closure of Oak Forest Hospital because more and more people are moving to the southland areas," said William McNary of the Citizen Action Board. "Two-thousand hospital beds have been lost in the last 10 years and the closure of Oak Park Hospital will be devastating."

"We are in an area where we need the help, and they voted no," said Ray Arevalo, an opponent of the closure. "How could they do this?"

In order to get Tuesday's vote, Cook County agreed to keep a 24-hour urgent clinic on site.

The new outpatient service center will open on September 1. Eventually they hope to provide outpatient surgeries as well.

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