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The months-long attempt by Pipeline Health, the California-based company that also owns West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, to close Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park underwent a dramatic twist that involved the governor, just after a state agency approved Pipeline’s application to discontinue services at Westlake. 

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board voted 7-0 on April 30 to allow Pipeline to close the hospital. After the April 30 hearing, Pipeline officials had indicated in an email that they planned to close the hospital by May 3. 

On the day of the planned closure, however, a Cook County Circuit Court judge entered a temporary restraining order prohibiting Pipeline Health from closing Westlake at least until 5 p.m. on May 7. The court decision was the result of the village of Melrose Park having filed a complaint for administrative review of the state board’s ruling.

In an April 26 letter to the review board, Ari Scharg, Melrose Park’s attorney, urged board members to defer a decision on Pipeline’s application to discontinue services at Westlake until a lawsuit that Melrose Park filed against Pipeline in March alleging fraud and conspiracy during the purchase process is resolved and an “equitable transition of Westlake to a new owner” is completed. 

Hours before the unanimous vote on April 30, the Review Board issued a 4-3 decision in favor of postponing the closure while the lawsuit played out, but without a 5-person majority the board could not make a final decision, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The Review Board has one seat that needs to be filled and one member was absent.

On May 6, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration announced that the governor was withdrawing the nominations of two Review Board members — Julie Hamos and Michael Geldner — who voted against delaying the closure, according to the Capitol Fax blog. 

In a statement, Pritzker’s office said that he would replace the members with appointees “who more closely share the governor’s vision for hospitals around the state. We appreciate their willingness to serve. The governor’s priority is to work with communities to ensure their health care needs are met.” 

“It’s a good start,” said state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), whose district includes Westlake’s service area. “He never should have appointed them in the first place. Those two have never done anything to help poor people. Now the governor needs to do more to ensure our community continues to have access to healthcare.”

Welch said that the governor should call for a re-vote on the closure. He also joined state Rep. Kathleen Willis (77th) and Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico in calling for Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to intervene. 

“Raoul was elected on a platform of access to healthcare,” the three lawmakers wrote in a joint Op-Ed published in the Chicago Sun-Times on May 6. “He now has the opportunity to stop an out of state investment company from stripping healthcare access away from 40,000 low income, minority people.”

Scharg said that on Tuesday a judge was scheduled to decide “whether we have a reasonable likelihood of success and if so, may stay the implementation of the board’s ruling until she enters a decision on the lawsuit.” 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com