During his daily briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that Westlake Hospital, 1225 W. Lake St. in Melrose Park, will reopen temporarily to treat the growing number of patients coming into area hospitals in the western suburbs.
“Last Monday, I informed you that in Cook and the collar counties, we formally launched work on three facilities,” the governor said during Thursday’s briefing.
Those facilities include three shuttered hospitals and McCormick Place, the convention center in Chicago.
McCormick Place will be the largest facility once it’s complete, with roughly 3,000 beds, Pritzker said. Metro South Medical Center in Blue Island and Advocate Sherman in Elgin will together host more than 500 beds, the governor said. Westlake Hospital will house 230 beds, he said.
“Construction at all four of these sites will be completed on a rolling basis throughout April,” Pritzker said. “We’re also finalizing the necessary steps to stand up an alternate care facility in central Illinois in the coming weeks.”
Pritzker said the temporary facilities will not replace existing medical infrastructure, adding that patients will be first directed to existing hospitals. Patients who aren’t as sick will be transferred to the alternate sites.
As of March 24, Pritzker said, the state had roughly 26,000 non-ICU beds and 2,600 ICU beds. About half of the non-ICU beds and less than half of the ICU beds are currently available, but “those numbers have dropped in the nine days” since the data came out.
Area elected officials and activists have been pushing the state to reopen Westlake for two weeks.
On March 20, state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), whose district includes part of River Forest, released a statement encouraging the governor to reopen Westlake, which closed last year.
The hospital’s for-profit parent company, California-based Pipeline Health, announced its intention to close the institution in early 2019, just weeks after finalizing the purchase. Last August, Westlake filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
A few days later, the Maywood-based Coalition for Spiritual and Public Leadership, a faith-based social justice nonprofit, launched an online petition pressuring state officials to reopen the hospital. And on March 25, Welch, state Rep. Kathleen Willis (77th) and Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (4th) released a joint letter to Pritzker.
“We strongly encourage your careful and expeditious consideration to reopen Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park to help provide additional medical resources and services to our neighbors who need it most,” the legislators wrote.
When reached on April 2, Welch said that the bankruptcy trustee was “key to the whole thing happening.”
The lawmaker shared an email he received on March 23 from an employee of Wilshire Pacific Capital Advisors LLC, a financial services firm based in Beverly Hills, Ca.
“Over the past two weeks, I have attempted to get the attention of government officials and other hospital operators to exhort them to reopen Westlake Hospital as part of the state’s emergency response to the COVID-19 epidemic,” the employee, whose name has been withheld since the person was unable to be reached for comment last week.
“The leaders of these various organizations are understandably swamped, but they are missing an essential opportunity. Westlake is a huge facility, capable of supporting a large Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for ventilator patients. The building has all the gas lines in the walls, it has negative pressure rooms to limit the spread of the virus, it has everything that the community needs to expand inpatient healthcare capacity.”
The employee added that they had been “contacted by certain parties who are considering using Westlake for post-acute care. Although Westlake has plenty of space for that, any hotel can be used to provide post-acute care. Only acute care hospital buildings can provide ICU care. That is the best and highest use of the facility.”
Welch said that after the employee reached out to him, he shared those concerns with state officials. Last week, they assured him that they would take action by today.
The news comes as the number of COVID-19 cases rises rapidly in some west suburbs. According to the Cook County Department of Public Health, as of April 2, there are a total of 1,992 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in suburban Cook County and 57 deaths.
That total does not include confirmed COVID-19 cases in Oak Park, which has its own public health department. As of April 2, the village had 46 confirmed cases, according to the Oak Park Public Health Department.
“This thing hasn’t peaked yet and when it peaks in two weeks, we have to be prepared,” Welch said. “I’m hoping we’re over-prepared. We’ll need every one of these beds. We have to get this thing open.”