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Report plans for next 10 years
'Master campus plan' demolition, expansion program

Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Cook County's public hospital system needs a $792 million investment to keep pace with demand over the next 10 years, according to a consultants' report commissioners plan to discuss Thursday.

The report, which cost $1.4 million, was expected to help commissioners decide whether to tear down the Cook County Hospital building, which has sat vacant since Stroger Hospital opened in 2002.

But the "master campus plan" released last week is far more comprehensive and lays out an ambitious demolition and expansion program for the next 10 years.

Expansion is needed to add 176 medical-surgical beds to the 240 already in place at Stroger Hospital, the consultants' report says.

Stroger Hospital's medical-surgical unit is overwhelmed, operating at 122 percent capacity, the report said. Hospital officials have previously said the hospital consistently operates at more than 90 percent of capacity.

The high demand at Stroger has led to patients being "held in inappropriate environments, including the already overcrowded emergency department ... leading to low patient satisfaction and their leaving without being seen," the report says.

Stroger Hospital takes all patients regardless of their ability to pay. County officials have said demand has surged in recent years with high unemployment and cutbacks in health care by both private employers and the federal government.

County officials originally wanted to build more beds, but state officials overruled them when approving hospital plans in 1994.

Planning for increasing demand through 2015, the consultants present six possible plans for redevelopment. The options differ over where development should take place and whether to save the old hospital building.

Consultants recommend the "North Replace" option, which has most renovation occurring just south of Harrison Street and west of Wood Street.

In that plan, the old hospital would be torn down and replaced with a new clinic and office building.

The Fantus clinic, just west of the old hospital, would become open space with a new entry drive to the main Stroger Hospital building. The old children's hospital would be replaced by an expansion of the parking garage, which now fills up early in the morning.

Buildings east of Wood Street would be torn down and replaced with a new research center connected to the campus via a tunnel. The administration building, south of Stroger Hospital, would be torn down to make room for an expansion of the hospital's emergency room and for more medical-surgical beds.

The report backs County Board President John Stroger's long-standing wish to demolish the building, saying renovation is slower, more expensive and could cause unexpected hang-ups if designers find any surprises.

But the report also says keeping the original main section of the 90-year-old Harrison Street building and turning it into offices raises the project's cost by only $11 million, or 1 percent.

The report says demolishing the building is best for the county's goals, said Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who has lead the fight to keep the building.

"But those goals are things that we as commissioners decide, and I think (the consultants) are a bit premature," he said.

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