Area lawmakers recently announced that they plan on delving deeper into the pending closure of Westlake Hospital, 1225 W. Lake St. in Melrose Park, during a formal hearing on the matter to be held this week.
In a statement released March 4, state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) and state Rep. Kathleen Willis (77th), along with members of the House Appropriations Human Services committee, announced that they plan on holding the hearing to “examine the community impact of the potential closure.”
The hearing is scheduled to take place Friday, March 8, 10 a.m., in room C-600 of the Bilandic Building, 160 N. Lasalle St. in Chicago.
“Closing this hospital will take away access to health care from a largely black and brown community,” Welch stated. “This hearing gives us another opportunity to show how Westlake’s closure will reduce access to care for some of the most vulnerable residents in our area.”
Pipeline Health, a national healthcare network based in California, and TWG Partners, a Chicago-based investment firm founded by Dr. Eric E. Whitaker — a close friend of former president Barack Obama — purchased Westlake along with two other struggling community hospitals from Tenet Healthcare for $70 million back in January.
Pipeline announced on Feb. 16 that it plans to file paperwork with the state to close Westlake in order to prop up West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park and Weiss Memorial in Chicago. If the paperwork is approved, the closure could be finalized the second quarter of this year, Pipeline officials said.
In interviews conducted since the closure was announced, Pipeline officials have argued that closing Westlake is necessary for West Suburban and Weiss to remain fiscally solvent and that some outpatient resources and employees at Westlake will be relocated to nearby West Suburban.
The company also said that a shuttle bus will be available to transport Westlake patients to and from West Suburban, and PCC Wellness Community Center, a health center located on the Westlake campus, will remain open.
According to a Chicago Tribune analysis of Pipeline Health’s application to purchase the hospitals submitted to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, Pipeline officials promised to “continue to operate for the benefit of the residents of Chicago and the greater Chicago area, including serving poor and underserved individuals through Westlake’s charitable activities.”
The Tribune also referenced experts who told reporters that it’s unlikely that state officials will have the power to stop the pending closure, since a 2015 change in statutes requires the state’s review board to approve hospital closure applications as long as companies meet certain standards. State law, however, does not forbid lawmakers from holding public hearings about proposed hospital closures.
Both Welch and Willis, along with Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico, said that they were told by Pipeline officials that the company intended to maintain Westlake Hospital — not to close it.
During a protest against the closure held outside the 230-bed hospital on Feb. 18, Welch, who is a Westlake trustee, said that “every single time” Pipeline Health officials spoke with hospital trustees during the purchase process, “they told us they wanted this hospital to invest in it, not close it. They said they believed in community, that they believe in the commission of community hospitals like Westlake.”
Mayor Serpico has explained in prior statements that Westlake is the only hospital in Melrose Park with “a functioning Obstetrics [OB-GYN] Department capable of providing pregnancy, childbirth and post-partum services.” Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, 701 W North Ave., is also located in Melrose Park.
“Less than one month after Pipeline promised to keep Westlake open and vocalized the hospital’s tremendous importance as one of the only safety net hospitals in our region, they have announced that they are closing the doors,” Serpico said in the joint statement Welch and Willis released. “Pipeline Health’s shameful lie will rob our communities of a vital asset.”
The representatives said that the House committee is inviting “local elected officials, physicians and support staff at Westlake to testify at the hearing, as well as officials from Pipeline Health.”
Willis said that when Pipeline purchased the three hospitals, “closure was not an option,” Willis said. “It’s unconscionable that Pipeline is going back on the word they gave our community and taking health care away from our neighbors just to boost their own profits.”