Oak Forest Hospital becomes health center

August 31, 2011 10:00:00 PM PDT
Following months of debates, Oak Forest Hospital became Oak Forest Health Center on Thursday, which means the Cook County facility provides out-patient services only.

Cook County officials called the transition smooth even though there were months of controversy due to the concerns of patients and organizations about the lack of hospital beds in the south suburbs.

For more than 90 years, Oak Forest Hospital has been a fixture on the 345-acre south suburban campus. The building remains, but its purpose has changed.

"We function like a 24-hour doctor office. We have primary care, so people can go there to get a primary care doctor," said Dr. Terry Mason, interim CEO of Cook County Health and Hospitals System.

Dr. Mason says converting the hospital into an outpatient center will save county taxpayers millions of dollars. Critics say it brings with it other costs.

"Surely it is cheaper to provide preventive care than it is after-the-fact care. However, if I'm in an automobile accident, I don't need preventative care. I need care now," said William McNary.

William McNary, with Citizen Action Illinois, says last year 33,000 people came to the Oak Forest Hospital emergency room. While McNary believes there is a big need for an out-patient clinic, he says it shouldn't be at the expense of hospital beds.

"We are just concerned about the growing health care desert that is happening in the south suburbs," McNary said.

County officials argue on average only 60 out of 214 beds at Oak Forest were used, and that new outpatient clinic have added services that were not available before, like cardiology and physical therapy.

"In the old days, you used to come to the hospital for tests, if you had a hernia repair, you would be in the hospital multiple days. Nowadays you can have a hernia repair as an outpatient," said Mason.

Dr. Mason says if a patient does need to be admitted to a hospital, the county will pay for transportation to Provident or Stroger hospitals.

As for jobs, Mason says most of the displaced health care workers have found or will find positions within the county system.