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Critics of cuts at Oak Forest Hospital speak out

Sunday, January 25, 2009
SouthtownStar
by Jason Freeman

When the Cook County Health and Hospital System board was created last year in an effort to depoliticize the operation of the county's financially strained health care system, Frank Borgers, a research and legislative analyst for the National Nurses Organizing Committee, was optimistic.

"The nurses, along with a lot of community folks, fought to create this board with the goal of saving the health care system and with the assumption that it would be based on public input," he said.

But Borgers said the nine-member board's recent decision to end inpatient surgeries at Oak Forest Hospital and move them to Stroger Hospital has made him reconsider that optimism.

"There was no community involvement," he said. "There was no discussion. They just took a vote, and that was it."

Borgers joined dozens of residents and health care advocates Saturday in voicing concerns over the board's decision during a community town hall meeting at Victory Christian International Ministries in Markham called "A Change We Can Believe In - A Change That Is Needed."

The meeting was sponsored by the Southland Ministerial Health Network, the Healthcare Consortium of Illinois and the Crossroad Coalition and featured guest speakers from those organizations as well as from the hospital board.

During the open-floor discussion afterward, many residents seemed frustrated that they will have to go to Chicago in order to receive inpatient surgery. Others, such as Emilie Junge, a regional coordinator for the Doctors Council SEIU, were angry that Oak Forest Hospital doctors weren't included in the decision-making process.

"The decision was made all of a sudden with no notice and with no opportunity for the doctors to have some input," she said. "Our view is that we should be seen as partners in the process of restructuring a system."

David Small, the board's interim chief executive officer, apologized during his speech but said the board is working on a new process that will include everyone in future decisions.

"Management and the board will have a conversation about concepts for change and redesign, and before there's final decision-making that starts us on our way to implement that, we'll go out and engage the community and others who are stakeholders," he said. "We'll discuss those concepts and get feedback and bring that back to the board so that everything is fully considered before final decisions are made."

Borgers, though, said it's a case of too little, too late.

"Offering an apology after the fact doesn't cut it," he said. "We believe that nurses, doctors and the community need to have a voice at the table, but they don't right now."

Authorities said Oak Forest Hospital will still offer outpatient surgeries that don't require full anesthesia. Surgeries requiring full anesthesia, but not an overnight hospital stay, will be done mostly at Provident Hospital in Chicago, they said.

Jason Freeman can be reached at jfreeman@southtownstar.com or (708) 802-8808.



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