Judge orders Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park remain open after services suspended Tuesday

MELROSE PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- A Cook County judge ruled Tuesday that Westlake Hospital in west suburban Melrose Park must stay open after services were temporarily suspended earlier Tuesday due to declining staff rates.

Pipeline Health, which recently purchased Westlake Hospital, said earlier this year that it would be closing the hospital because it's losing nearly $2 million there each month.

Pipeline officials announced the temporary suspension Tuesday morning. The 230-bed care facility, which usually takes in surgical, pediatric, obstetric, mental health, rehab and intensive care patients, had stopped taking in new patients and surgeries were canceled.

Officials said the suspension was put in place to protect patient safety, and that Westlake staff were not showing up to work. The employees who do are forced to work very long hours. The labor and delivery department alone has lost 25 percent of its nurses.

The village of Melrose Park took Pipeline to court Tuesday to keep the hospital running with normal operations.

Cook County Judge Eve Reilly said while she understands that insufficient staffing can constitute an emergency, the residents of Melrose Park deserve to have public health.

Reilly issued a temporary restraining order, which means the hospital needs to stay fully operational and needs to have proper staffing until a decision is made about the hospital's future.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services review board is expected to make a final decision about Westlake Hospital on April 30. The temporary restraining order will remain in effect until after that decision.

"We are pleased that the courts have granted our Temporary Restraining Order requiring Westlake hospital remain open. But make no mistake, these new owners are working hard to starve Westlake Hospital to death," said Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico. "The people need this safety net hospital and I truly hope that the Illinois Health Services and Facilities Review Board recognizes how important it is when they rule later this month. Westlake Hospital is a vital community asset that has the potential to thrive as a community hospital if its owners run it properly."

Pipeline officials said there was never a specific timeline as to how long the hospital would stay open when they made the initial purchase.

"Our utmost priority is safety and quality of patient care," said Jim Edwards, CEO of Pipeline Health, said in a statement Tuesday. "With declining staffing rates and more attrition expected, a temporary suspension of services is necessary to assure safe and sufficient operations. This action is being taken after considering all alternatives and with the best interest of our patients in mind."

"Pipeline Health and Eric Whitaker are doubling down on their disinvestment in our community by closing Westlake Hospital before the state has given them permission to do so," Serpico said in a statement released Tuesday. "Pipeline Health and Whitaker have manufactured their own crisis at the hospital in a despicable attempt to skirt Illinois law. If Eric Whitaker and Pipeline were truly concerned about protecting patients, they would invest in Westlake Hospital instead of denying medical access to low income communities."
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