Embattled Melrose Park hospital remains open despite threats to close

MELROSE PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- The health care company that owns Westlake Hospital had initially said that the financially-troubled west suburban facility would shutter by 3 p.m. Friday. But several hours after the apparent deadline, the hospital's doors were still open, patients were being treated and employees continued to show up for work.

It remains unclear how long the hospital will stay in operation after filing for bankruptcy on Tuesday.

Sharon Miller was among the patients to walk out of the embattled Melrose Park hospital Friday.

"I was in there and through the emergency room. They took care of me. I feel better, and I was in and out of there within an hour," Miller said.

She may well be one of the last patients ever treated at the facility.

"They're still doing their job, so I didn't even know they were closing," Miller said. "You have people over here who need medical attention, you have old people who can't get around."

The bankruptcy filing this week follows an effort earlier this year by the hospital's owner, Pipeline Health, to close the facility, sparking a legal battle with the village of Melrose Park. Hospital officials said the facility has consistently been 80% empty in recent months. The hospital has also been losing millions per month, according to officials.

Hospital leaders blamed in part a decline in local, state and federal health care funding.

After filing for bankruptcy, the hospital owners sent letters to staff stating their intent to transfer out all patients by Friday at 3 p.m.

But that same day, attorneys for Melrose Park fought in court to keep the hospital open.

Cook County State's Attorney Kimberly Foxx backed the village by filing a motion to join its efforts to hold the hospital's owners in contempt of court.

"Despite best efforts and legal intervention, vulnerable residents are now facing an abrupt halt in medical services," Foxx said. "Those most affected should have been given more respect than a letter days before the hospital is set to close."

Eli Wade-Scott, an attorney for Melrose Park, said that if Pipeline chooses to shutter the facility, they "risk having severe monetary sanctions imposed."

A Cook County judge ruled on Friday that the bankruptcy case will have to be decided first.

"The court felt that the bankruptcy court had jurisdiction over the assets of hospital and therefore, he was not able to order today that the parent company fund or reopen the hospital," Wade-Scott said.

If the 230-bed hospital closes, it's unlikely to reopen.

The next legal proceedings will take place in bankruptcy court in Delaware on Tuesday.

Employees said their future at the hospital could potentially become more clear after that court date.

The case will then be taken up in a Cook County courtroom again Wednesday.
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