State kills Cook County plan to close hospital

May 10, 2011

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(WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)
Cook County officials say they were caught off-guard by the vote.

Cook County will not be allowed to shut down a south suburban hospital at the end of the month, after a state board took a second and decisive vote Tuesday to deny the county’s plan to close Oak Forest Hospital and replace it with a regional outpatient center.

It took just one person’s vote to knock the proposal down. Ronald Eaken of Urbana sits on the Health Facilities and Services Review Board, and he said he remained concerned that closing the hospital would reduce patients’ access to care. Because of vacancies on the board and one absence, Cook County would have needed all five members present to vote yes.

Dozens of workers and activists leaped up and cheered when the ruling came down. County officials sat stone-faced at a table before the board members. County Board President Toni Preckwinkle later said the system’s board and county commissioners will have to review their options.

“Well I’m very disappointed,” Preckwinkle said. “It’s kind of back to the drawing board for us.”

The vote represents a major snag for the county health system’s strategic plan, some two years in the making. It gets complicated now, as the county only budgeted salaries for Oak Forest employees for half a year. Some staffing and services have already been wound down.

Meanwhile, advocates like Joyce Edmond hailed the decision, saying it means a reprieve for her mother, an Oak Forest cancer patient.

“It’s gonna mean a lot, because my mom is 84,” Edmond said. “We cannot travel to Stroger Hospital and wait 36 hours. No. That is just impossible.”

Activists say they hope the county will take a fresh look at its entire strategic plan.