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‘Miracle’ may be short-lived

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
by SouthtownStar editorial staff

‘It’s a miracle” proclaimed the words on our front page Tuesday.

How we wish we believed.

Certainly we don’t discount the sentiment. The exclamation, from a friend of Oak Forest Hospital, was truly spoken from the heart. After long and loud fighting for the hospital’s future, protesters tasted victory when a state review board declared Cook County could not close the hospital.

John Gaudette, organizing director of Citizen Action Illinois, said the nonprofit group would continue to build support to keep the hospital’s inpatient services.

“(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.”

We cheer their great work. And we’d like to celebrate here, now, too. It’s just that the cold, gray light of morning cast a bureaucratic pall over Monday night’s fiery exultation.

Lest anyone believed that the state board’s “intent to deny” the county’s plans meant it “WILL deny” the county’s plans, officials stepped in with the formal lingo: “The board historically has not pushed for a complete denial of an application to discontinue services. In the past, the board has issued a permit, but only with conditions that specifically address medical needs of the community.”

Translated: We’re only throwing up a speed bump.

Certainly this is better than what we expected: complete approval of the county’s plan that would have left this area unprepared and residents at risk.

While we support many of the alternative treatment ideas that an outpatient center could provide, we have been, and we remain, unsatisfied that they will be realized — or funded or properly planned.

So we welcome the speed bump. But it is not a miracle.

We cheer the hundreds of people who have voiced care and concern and support in public meetings and in letters to this newspaper and to state and county officials. We are proud of the advocacy and interest of those who want to fight to keep a valued resource. But we can read bureaucratese well.

We think, as they fight for total victory, they need to look at what concessions they might choose, should defeat come instead.

We need a clear plan for what outpatient services and when, and assurance that this is not a temporary plan that will be rescinded in the middle of some back-room budget session.

We need some assurance that the transportation services can get patients where they need to be in a sprawling county.

But we’re worried. Already the county has said it didn’t have a Plan B budget to fund the hospital were its closure plan denied.

We call on protesters to keep fighting.

We call on the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to not let county officials squirm away.

The people — even the poorest of the people — here in the Southland deserve the same access to health care as the rest of Cook County. We are not second-class citizens.

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