State legislature may intervene in hospital fight

May 19, 2011

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(WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)
Advocates protest the plan to close Oak Forest Hospital at the May 10 meeting of a state board.

An Illinois lawmaker is trying to release Cook County from the authority of a state board, with the fate of a south suburban hospital hanging in the balance. House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie introduced an amendment yesterday to exempt Cook County from rulings by a board charged with regulating health facilities in Illinois. That board twice rejected a county plan to close Oak Forest Hospital and replace it with a regional clinic.

Rep. Currie, a Democrat, said the county isn’t legally obligated to provide health care at all. And furthermore, she said the county is a home-rule entity and should control its own fate.

"This is an amendment that would say the health facilities planning board cannot tell Cook County what to do when it comes to providing health care services to the residents of Cook County," she said.

The amendment has been sent to the House Rules Committee, which Currie herself chairs.

Lynda DeLaforgue of Citizen Action Illinois, who has been campaigning to keep the hospital open, is denouncing the amendment, as well as County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for supporting it.

"President Preckwinkle ran on a ticket of reform," DeLaforgue said. “Reform certainly [does] not mean that you should end-run a process when it doesn’t go your way – especially with last-minute legislation, like this."

The County had planned to shutter the hospital by June 1st. It’s still not clear what will happen on that date, as many staff positions there are only budgeted through the end of May.

Rep. Currie said she intends the legislation, if passed, to effectively throw out the state board’s decision and free the county to close the hospital. Health system spokesman Lucio Guerrero said that’s likely how Cook County officials would interpret it as well.