Nurse's complaint sparked IDPH investigation that led to Waukegan hospital losing trauma designation

Tuesday, February 6, 2024
Hospital loses trauma designation after complaint, IDPH investigation
A nurse's complaint led to an Illinois Department of Public Health that resulted in Vista Medical Center East losing its trauma designation.

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (WLS) -- A Level 2 Trauma Center delivers life-saving emergency services for things like heart attack and stroke.

And while hospital officials vow to appeal the state's decision to strip its designation, it stands for now, leaving Lake County officials worried about what this means for residents in Waukegan and around the area.

The only hospital in a city of nearly 100,000 people, Waukegan's Vista Medical Center was dealt a hard blow Friday when the Illinois Department of Public Health stripped it of its ability to delivery Trauma 2 Level services. The decision came as a shock to many who believe they should have been warned, including the mayor.

"This would be like a company going under a consent decree and never having a warning letter. They knew. And why was this not discussed ahead of time?" said Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor.

The decision, IDPH said, was made "due to its absence of essential services needed to maintain this designation, including lack of a blood bank, anesthesia, neurology, urology, or a full-time Trauma Coordinator."

Lake County, IL officials held a press conference after Vista Medical Center East lost its trauma designation.

"I had a heart attack two or three years ago. I had to drive myself to Condell to get stents put in me because they didn't have kind of service I need," said Waukegan resident Bobby Garland.

Jennifer Banek is the Lake County coroner. She also, until recently, provided her services as an anesthesia nurse at Vista Medical Center. It was her complaint that led to the IDPH investigation.

"I've seen a lot of the medical staff leave," Banek said. "Anesthesia services have dissipated significantly. There was one particular case where a patient had to wait for emergency surgery for twice as much as she should have."

The hospital's California-based ownership is hitting back, refuting the state's determinations and the accusations made against them.

"We are right now sending them all the agreements that we have for those services," said American Healthcare Systems Chief Legal Officer Faisal Gill. "We are working with IDPH to get the certification back as soon as possible, because we think there was an error in taking it away. So that's what we're focused on. We're focused on providing good, safe care to the citizens of Waukegan."

They said it is a misunderstanding.

"We think that we're in full compliance, and we're working with IDPH, which we think will be, the issue will be resolved fairly shortly," Gill said.

But even as hospital officials vow to fight the state's decision, for now, what this means is that patients seeking many life-saving emergency services will need to be transferred as much as 20 to 30 minutes farther, with the closest Trauma Centers located in Lake Forest, Libertyville, Highland Park and Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.

At a Waukegan City Council meeting on Monday night, some residents said they are worried about the loss of a service that could mean the difference between life and death.

"The impact of these developments on the city of Waukegan is dire, and it can't be overstated," said Stephanie Colotti.

The city council chambers were full on Monday night.

"I've watched every year that hospital go down and down and down and down and down, and I ain't seen none of my elected officials do anything!" said Rayon Edwards.

Vista's owner said it is submitting required paperwork to IDPH and hopes, as early as this week, to regain that designation.