Updated at 6 p.m.
A Cook County judge ordered a health care company to continue operations at a struggling west suburban hospital.
Pipeline Health will have to restore services, with the exception of bariatrics and a previously established temporary ban on ambulatory traffic, at Westlake hospital in Melrose Park by Thursday, or face a $200,000 per day fine, Cook County Circuit Judge Moshe Jacobius said Tuesday.
The services must be offered at least until April 30, when the Illinois Health Services Review Board is scheduled to consider Pipeline Health’s application to close Westlake Hospital.
Melrose Park lawyers asked Jacobius to hold the Los Angeles-based company in contempt of court for allegedly ignoring the judge’s order last week to maintain operations at Westlake.
A lawyer for Pipeline argued the company was in compliance with the judge’s order because it took effect after Pipeline had already begun reducing services at Westlake.
At the hearing were local lawmakers who have criticized Pipeline’s handling of Westlake — Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, and Illinois state Reps. Kathleen Willis and Emanuel “Chris” Welch — and a host of Westlake doctors and nurses.
“It’s been very hard, all these physicians an people canceled there offices and postponed their schedules to be here,” said Dr. Nabil Saleh, one of at least half a dozen Westlake staff members who stayed for the entirety of Tuesday’s seven hour hearing. “We are committed. We believe we are doing the right thing.”
The hearing is the latest phase in a monthslong dispute between Melrose Park and Pipeline, which bought Westlake in January. The village accuses Pipeline of failing to follow through on plans to improve Westlake and continue operations there.
“They told not only the village, but they told community members and state representatives time and time again they were going to keep Westlake Hospital open and invest in it,” Melrose Park spokesman Andrew Mack told WBEZ last week.
But Pipeline spokeswoman Natalie Bauer Luce told WBEZ last week, “Pipeline’s original application for change of ownership makes no promise or commitment to keep Westlake open for any period of time.”
Pipeline says Westlake suffers from declining inpatient stays and losses of nearly $2 million a month. The company says the hospital is only 30 percent full with patients, and they said inpatient visits in 2018 plunged compared with the prior year.
Westlake serves a mainly African-American and Hispanic population.
WBEZ reporter Miles Bryan contributed.