Plan to close Oak Forest Hospital draws more criticism
Southtown Star/Chicago Suntimes, 5/3/11
By: A. Jay Wagner
Correspondent, Southtown Star
May 3, 2011
Assertions by Cook County officials that Oak Forest Hospital patients will be adequately cared for if the hospital closes were called into question Monday at a public hearing on the planned closure at Oak Forest City Hall.
The county plans to convert the hospital into an outpatient center, saying it can provide more patients a wider variety of services and save money. The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board is expected to decide May 10 whether to approve the plan.
Cook County Health and Hospitals System CEO William Foley has said the county will pay for and monitor the care of two long-term patients now living at the hospital if it closes, and officials have said other long-term patients covered by Medicaid will find care in nursing homes.
Diane Roth, of Orland Park, isn’t convinced. She has been particularly frustrated by the decisions being made and by the brusqueness of the staff. Her cousin, Mike Yanul, has been at the hospital for 17 years and has been told he has to make a decision regarding his future care.
“They say they’re working with families to help them relocate, but that’s not the case,” Roth said Monday. “They just peek their head in his door occasionally and ask if he’s made a plan. Mike’s been in the same hospital, in the same room, for the past 17 years and has received phenomenal care. ”
If the closure goes through, Yanul would have to find comparable arrangements within his Medicare budget — and deal with the physical toll of moving.
“It would be near impossible to get everything squared away and moved in the time frame they’re talking,” Roth said.
Yanul, diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was 3, is on a ventilator and has no physical mobility. Cook County wants the hospital closed by June 1.
About 120 union representatives, community activists and hospital executives attended Monday’s hearing, hosted by the Illinois House’s Health and Health Care Disparities Committee.
State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) criticized the county’s figures — it hopes to save $25 million with the change, mostly by reducing staff — and State Rep. Al Riley (D-Hazel Crest) interrogated Foley about how converting the hospital to an outpatient center would serve more people.
At a meeting last month, the state review board issued an “intent to deny” the county’s request to close the hospital, citing the resulting gap in services it would create. The county responded by hiring an attorney for up to $60,000 to help retool its application.
John Gaudette, a director of Citizen Action Illinois, called the hearing productive for hospital supporters.
“It’s certainly late in the game, but the state is stepping up and willing to re-evaluate the situation and to consider whether there really is enough good care in the Southland,” Gaudette said.
Meanwhile, a pastor who is threatening to sue the county if it closes the hospital is hosting a prayer vigil scheduled to start at noon today across the street from the hospital.
The Rev. Anthony W. Williams, of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Robbins, will set up an overnight camp at the Franciscan Rectory, 4700 W. 159th St., and he plans to fast to draw attention to the cause.
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