County ups pressure to close Oak Forest
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
by Phil Kadner
Cook County is threatening to sue the state if it refuses to grant the application to close Oak Forest Hospital.
While state law gives the county the authority
to operate a hospital, according to county board President Toni
Preckwinkle, “it does not impose a legal obligation on Cook County” to
In a letter to the chairman of the Illinois
Health Facilities and Services Review Board, Preckwinkle states, “One
concern with a denial of the Oak Forest application is that it may
ultimately be deemed an attempt on the part of a State agency to require
Cook County to maintain certain inpatient services which are not within
its budget and, thus, would be tantamount to an unfunded state
Oak Forest is one of three hospitals operated by the county’s Health and Hospitals Systems Board.
Due to an overall budget deficit and concerns
about inefficiencies and spending on the hospitals, Cook County created
an independent board to oversee its hospital system. After nearly two
years of study and public hearings, that board devised a strategic plan
that includes closing Oak Forest Hospital by June 1.
The hospital would eventually be replaced by an
outpatient clinic on the current hospital grounds, near 159th Street and
Cicero Avenue, around 2015. In the meantime, the hospital’s emergency
room would operate as an intermediate care center.
But the Illinois Health Facilities and Services
Review Board must grant permission for a hospital to close. In March,
the state board announced its intention to deny the county’s request to
close Oak Forest Hospital.
Cook County has six months to persuade the state board to reverse its decision.
A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of
Health told me that no one at the state agency could recall a time when
it followed through with its “intent to deny” a permit to close a
All the Illinois Health Facilities and Services
Review Board is really looking for is some assurance from Cook County
that Southland residents who now use Oak Forest would be able to find
health care somewhere else.
State health officials also indicated a lack of
trust in the county’s plan to open an outpatient clinic and wanted the
county to address the needs of Southland patients in a more expedited
William McNary, co-director of Citizens Action of
Illinois, accused county officials of attempting to “muscle” the state
board into reversing its decision.
“All the state wants, all we want, is to see a
plan from Cook County to address the needs of indigent patients in the
south suburbs,” McNary said. “We keep asking for that plan, and all we
get is a lot of talk about a lack of money.
“Cook County Health and Hospitals Systems’ top
priority is ensuring the availability of high-quality health care
services for all medically indigent residents. That’s what we should be
In her letter to Dale Galassie, chairman of the
health facilities board, Preckwinkle says that Cook County’s 2011 budget
“provides funding for the staffing, equipment and construction needs of
a Regional Health Center on the Oak Forest Campus to facilitate the
“As Cook County Board president,” Preckwinkle
stated, “I am in a unique position to provide assurance that the
Regional Health Center on the Oak Forest campus will be funded as
provided in the County’s (fiscal year) 2011 budget.”
William Foley, chief executive of the county
health care system, announced his intention to resign from office
shortly after the state denied the county’s request to close Oak Forest
Hospital. But Foley is expected to appear before the state board at its
May meeting as part of the county’s effort to get the board to change
In addition, Cook County has hired a Chicago law
firm with connections to state health officials to make the argument for
closing Oak Forest.
The county apparently has no contingency plan in
place to keep the hospital operating. It has cut inpatient services over
the last two years, and the long-term care unit now has only five
While the state may have the authority to open or
close hospitals, its ability to force a hospital operator to continue
funding a hospital is questionable.
In fact, the state board has done nothing as the
county has continued to cut the medical staff and reduce patient care at
Oak Forest Hospital over the past few years.
Will Davis (D-Homewood), chairman of an Illinois
House committee on health care disparities, has scheduled a hearing on
the proposed hospital closing at 1 p.m. May 2 at Oak Forest City Hall.