State board rejects Cook County plan to close Oak Forest Hospital

March 21, 2011

Download Story
(WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)
Protesters temporarily shut down a state board hearing about the closure of Oak Forest Hospital.

A state board has rejected Cook County’s plan to close south suburban Oak Forest Hospital, but the proposal is almost certain to come up again.

The county says closing Oak Forest Hospital and replacing it with an enhanced outpatient clinic would save money and provide more care. Some members of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board weren’t convinced and expressed concerns the closure would harm patient care.

They declared an “intent to deny” the county’s request, but not before dozens of protestors temporarily shut down the hearing with heckling and chants of “save our hospital.” Chairman Dale Galassie called a 15-minute recess and urged protestors to quiet down.

When the board reconvened, members had sharp questions for county health officials about where Oak Forest patients would go in an area with few health care options. Then, two board members voted no, enough to turn back the proposal.

Protestors cheered the ruling, but said they knew the fight wasn’t over. The county can resubmit its request with more information, which the health system’s CEO said he plans to do. He said trading the hospital’s emergency room and in-patient beds for more outpatient care would fill a more pressing need.

“There’s only so much we can do,” said CEO Bill Foley.” We can actually expand access by doing this, but any time you talk about shutting down or closing services, I think you get that kind of reaction.”

Foley said the county would have a new submission ready for the state board’s next meeting in May.