Cuts in store for Oak Forest Hospital under county proposal
Thursday, October 15, 2009
by Maura Possley
Cook County may eliminate inpatient care at Oak
Forest Hospital and make way for expansion of its rehabilitation
services and outpatient care.
The scenario for the safety-net hospital is included in a draft of
the Cook County Health and Hospitals System's long-term plan expected
to be finalized next month.
The draft calls for making Oak Forest a "community hub," providing
primarily speciality outpatient care - services such as primary care,
gynecology or dermatology, said Dr. Homer Abiad, president of the Oak
Forest medical staff.
But if a patient needed to be admitted to a hospital, they'd have to
head north to the county-run Stroger Hospital on Chicago's West Side or
go to other area hospitals with which the county will establish new
"Obviously, the number of inpatients isn't anywhere (near) where
Stroger sees, but it's still a significant amount, and where those
patients would go to receive inpatient care is unclear," Abiad said.
"Certainly we have a hard time conceiving that they would all either go
to Stroger for inpatient care or they would all be absorbed by the
That's because Southland hospitals are already grappling with
increased numbers of uninsured patients because of the rise in
unemployment during a recession.
But the county planned to contract for the services inpatients need
or in other cases send these patients - most of whom are uninsured - to
hospitals needing to provide more charity care, hospital system
spokesman Lucio Guerrero said. Talks had already begun with University
of Chicago Hospitals and Rush University Medical Center, and more were
"We can't provide everything to everybody, so we collaborate to
create access," Guerrero said. "We had to find ways to better utilize
(Oak Forest Hospital) to make it more of a provider to the area. It's
finding ways to be creative with resources."
Oak Forest has about 60 patients; five are long-term care, 15 are
receiving rehabilitation and the remainder are general inpatients.
Already this year, Oak Forest has seen its inpatient surgeries moved
to Stroger. Two years ago, the majority of its long-term care program
was also axed. All the while, community advocates have decried the lack
of health care access here.
But the county system meanwhile is facing a budgetary nightmare. The
hospital board is under pressure to cut tens of millions from its
budget, which at $882 million this year makes up the bulk of Cook
County's overall budget.
This strategic plan brought to the nine-member panel, which was
created in 2008 to depoliticize the operation of the county's massive
and cash-strapped health system, is part of a mission to streamline
The board planned to finalize the plan next month after a series of
public hearings. The plan must then go before the Cook County Board.
"That's the main issue for our patients, getting them to Stroger.
It's just such a distance," Abiad said. "Obviously we're hoping the
people in the community will make their voices heard."
PUBLIC HEARING ON PROPOSED STRATEGIC PLAN
• South Suburban College, 15800 S. State St., South Holland - 6 p.m. Monday