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Crowd turns out to protest proposed changes at Oak Forest Hospital

Friday, January 21, 2011
by Michael Drakulich

One by one, protestors sat before a microphone on Thursday and decried a plan to convert Oak Forest Hospital into a primary care center.

Some who testified at the Oak Forest City Hall council chambers used walkers or canes to get around. Some choked back tears as they spoke of loved ones who may be forced into nursing homes or face traveling much farther to Stroger Hospital to receive care.

“Without the services of this hospital, I don’t know what me and my wife would do,” said Larry Kelley, whose wife has been a patient there. “Please save this hospital.”

The Cook County Health and Hospitals System has proposed ending the hospital’s inpatient, surgical and emergency room services in favor of outpatient services.

The plan is pending before the state’s health facilities board, which is expected to decide at a March 22 meeting in Joliet.

County officials hope to save about $25 million under the plan. But, officials say, the move would increase outpatient services dramatically.

William Foley, the county health system’s CEO, said Oak Forest Hospital’s budget is about $100 million and only has 50 to 60 patients at a time. Oak Forest will be able to treat more patients and offer more services under the plan, Foley said.

But people in the audience didn’t seem to buy it.

Bonnie Blue, of Chicago, said she believes the plan is fueled purely by money: “When the sick and poor have to pay for the greed of politicians there’s a real problem here.”Lee Mayberry, of Lansing, said he wasn’t confident other hospitals would care for Oak Forest patients who are uninsured.

Mayberry is blind and relies on public transportation. Trying to find late-night transportation to Stroger isn’t an option, he said.

“If I get sick after 9 p.m., I’m stuck,” he said.

Betty Boles, vice president for Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents the county health system’s employees, said the proposal would make poor people suffer.

“Patients and employees have become the scapegoat for decades of mismanagement and corruption that has eroded county health services and now threatens to close down Oak Forest Hospital,” Boles said.

But county health system spokesman Lucio Guerrero said the plan could treat four times more patients.

“We will fill a need of the community and that’s why we are confident it (application) will be passed,” he said.

Contributing: AP

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