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Cook health officials on hot seat over hospital plan

Tuesday, October 20, 2009
by Maura Possley

A tense and angry crowd greeted Cook County health officials Monday night over their plan to overhaul the county hospital system that includes cutting inpatient care at Oak Forest Hospital.

In the first public hearing on the plan that was unveiled last week, officials sat under stage lights at South Suburban College in South Holland, and in more ways than that, the heat was on.

"We're not going to be getting a lot more funding," said William Foley, the hospital system's chief executive. "We don't see any means or ways in which that's going to happen."

The proposed plan aims to continue services over the next three years in the face of decreasing revenue. It would send all inpatient care to Stroger Hospital on Chicago's West Side or other Southland hospitals partnering with the county.

"We never said we wanted one service or another, we want comprehensive care," Oak Forest Hospital nurse Brenda Langford told officials.

Foley said the plan would rearrange the county system's limited resources to maintain access for increased efficiency. Hospital partnerships would help fill the inpatient care needs, he said.

Despite his assurances, the crowd cast doubt that the plan amounted to more than service cuts in the Southland.

"Oak Forest is the only hospital out there for poor folks," Joe Sneed, of Harvey, said.

Many who were in attendance questioned whether neighboring hospitals would admit patients who now come to Oak Forest as a last resort.

"We're going to reward them for kicking patients out," Chicago Heights resident Ray Arbalo said.

After a similar public hearing this month, the health system board will finalize the hospital plan. It must then go before the county board for final approval.

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