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Cook County not sure how to pay for OF Hospital reprieve

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
by Jessica Tobacman

A state board on Monday voted to allow Oak Forest Hospital to stay open for now, denying a request by Cook County to transform it into an outpatient center.

But county officials aren’t sure where they’ll get the money to keep operating the facility as a hospital and hope to persuade the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board at its May 10 meeting to reconsider its vote.

Cook County Health and Hospital System chief executive Bill Foley said the system’s 2011 budget was based on hospital operations at Oak Forest being discontinued by June 1.

“In the coming days, the system will explore possible contingencies as a result of today’s vote,” Foley said in a statement.

At one point during Monday’s meeting in Joliet, Dale Galassie, chairman of the state board, threatened to close the meeting as protesters in the overflow crowd began repeatedly chanting, “Save our hospital.”

Galassie recessed the meeting for 15 minutes, and it reconvened with two more security guards present, but the protestors quieted down.

After the review board’s vote, John Gaudette, organizing director of Citizen Action Illinois, said the nonprofit group would continue to build support to keep Oak Forest Hospital’s inpatient services. He said Citizen Action had sent thousands of postcards and letters, opposing the county’s plan.

“(Monday) was about the opportunity to stop what was happening,” he said. “People are excited that south Cook County has the facility it needs and deserves.”

The county said its plan would save costs and expand access to health care for most low-income residents of the Southland.

But in a report, the Illinois Public Health Department recommended against closing the hospital, saying that would worsen the shortage of intensive care and long-term care beds in the region.

Lee Mayberry, of Lansing, who is legally blind, has been an outpatient at Oak Forest Hospital on-and-off for 15 years and is involved with Citizen Action. Mayberry relies on public transportation and said he would have difficulty reaching an alternative hospital to Oak Forest.

“The people in power realize they have to make some concessions,” he said of county officials. “This is about the patients.”

Contributing: AP

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