In Oak Forest Hospital dispute, both sides say they're misunderstood

January 20, 2011

By Gabriel Spitzer

Download Story
(WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)
Larry Kelly testifies before state regulators about the importance of Oak Forest Hospital.

South suburban residents are pleading with Illinois officials to preserve Cook County’s Oak Forest Hospital. But with a final decision approaching, there’s widespread confusion about the hospital’s future.

The board that oversees Cook County’s health and hospitals system wants to downsize Oak Forest from a full-scale hospital to a beefy clinic. At a hearing today, south suburbanites said those cuts would force them to make costly, time-consuming trips to Stroger Hospital for appointments and medicine.

But county officials say that’s a misunderstanding. “The reason why we did this plan is so people don’t have to go to Stroger,” said Lucio Guerrero, spokesman for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.

Oak Forest would add more outpatient and specialty care, while cutting in-patient care and downgrading its emergency room to an urgent care facility. Cook County is trying to get nearby hospitals to absorb some of the patients, but Guerrero says there are no agreements yet.

Consumers, meanwhile, said the overhaul would still reduce services in an underserved area. And they complained that despite all of the hearings, residents like them aren’t being heard.

“It’s really frustrating because I feel like this is more of a, you know, a formality,” said Larry Kelly, whose wife is a patient at Oak Forest. “I feel like the board [members] have already made up their minds of what they’re going to do.”

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board will rule on the changes in March.