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Steele: Stroger Hospital can absorb Bethany patients

Thursday, January 19, 2006
Chicago Defender
by Mema Ayi, Chicago Defender

It will be at least a week before Cook County commissioners know how the change of service at Advocate Bethany Hospital will impact services at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital.

But in the meantime, one West Side commissioner said some of her colleagues may be turning changes at Bethany into an issue for their own political gain.

Oak Brook-based Advocate Healthcare Centers announced last week it plans to convert the 85-year-old Bethany Hospital, 3435 W. Van Buren St., into a long-term acute care center March 1, which will likely send many of the its emergency room and birthing center patients to Stroger Hospital, about two miles away.

While county commissioners are waiting to hear from the county's health chief on the projected increases in patient volume at the county hospital and the impact on a county clinic it leases from Advocate, Commissioner Bobbie Steele (D-2nd) told the Defender that changes at the hospital should not be turned into a political issue since it was a lack of patient volume that led Advocate to downsize Bethany's services.

"I think a lot of information is being politicized to enhance certain people's images," Steele said. "In a perfect world, (Bethany) would continue to operate, but it's a private hospital and their corporate office made a business decision."

Steele said Bethany, always a struggling hospital with low patient volume, nearly closed in the 1980s when it was owned by Evangelical Lutheran.

Bethany's emergency room and birthing center will close, but with an average of just 63 patients a day, it should not be a problem for Stroger or Mt. Sinai Hospital to absorb those patients, Steele said.

"(Bethany) is scaling back because it's costing money to provide services in the absence of patients," Steele said.

Many have criticized Advocate's plan and accused the hospital of deserting the largely under-insured West Side community it serves.

Congressman Danny Davis (D-7th) said called Bethany's planned change in services unfortunate and said its patients will likely end up at the county hospital.

"If one had been going to Bethany, the two closest facilities are Mt. Sinai and (Stroger). If you don't have any money, you're going to go to county," Davis said.

Advocate maintains it will continue to serve the community by providing long-term care to people with complex medical conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, respiratory conditions, stroke, kidney disease and severe wounds.

Without an emergency room at Bethany, many patients will likely visit Stroger and Mt. Sinai hospitals, the county's health chief, Dr. Daniel Winship told commissioners at their meeting Wednesday. But Winship said he won't have a clear projection of the increase in patient load until after he meets with his staff next week.

Winship was most concerned with how the county will pay for the lease on its clinic at 3410 W. Van Buren St., across the street from Bethany. The county will now have to lease the space from Advocate at an estimated - and unbudgeted cost - of $200,000 to $300,000 a year.

"I'm not wildly enthusiastic about paying that rent," Winship said.

Commissioners said if the clinic has to leave the space, Winship should try to find something on the West Side to continue to serve an estimated 15,000 patients a year.

Cook County Board President John Stroger stressed that not all of Bethany patients are indigent and expects the county hospital to see patients who are able to pay for medical care.

The board, he added, should also be cautious about how it handles changes at both hospitals.

"With the Bethany situation, we should get all the lawyers involved to see that the county's interests are protected," Stroger said.

Commissioner Forest Claypool (D-12th) said he was concerned Advocate may not have been approved for the change by the state's health department.

"Advocate inexplicably may have made these decisions without going through the Illinois Health regulatory process," Claypool said. "Before any action is taken, we need to make sure Advocate does the right thing under the law."
 



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