CLOSED: Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park was closed in August. The hospital's former employees are now suing the owner, Pipeline Health, for violating federal labor laws. | File photo

Preparation is underway to reopen the shuttered Westlake Hospital, 1225 W. Lake St. in Melrose Park, as Woodlake Hospital. Westlake closed in 2019.

A company based in New Jersey filed an application with the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board over the summer to reopen the Melrose Park hospital as a specialty hospital that would include 80 acute mental illness beds, along with drug and alcohol addiction services. Woodlake officials have said the hospital would create “at least 500 to 600 permanent jobs.”

The Review Board approved the request by Woodlake Specialty Holdings LLC in August and the hospital obtained its charter last month, according to a board member. Woodlake officials said they anticipate spending about $43 million to reopen the hospital by Dec. 31, 2022.

Woodlake’s local board of directors includes Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey, who was recently appointed board chairman, according to a Nov. 4 Facebook statement by Broadview Mayor Katrina Thompson, who is also on the board.

Proviso Township Clerk Anthony Williams, Maywood Trustee Antonio Sanchez, and Doug Olson of the Melrose Park Chamber of Commerce, are also board members. The hospital’s CEO, Shannon Jones, is a woman of color, Woodlake officials said.

During an Aug. 9 public hearing convened by the Review Board, Jones said the hospital will occupy about 270,000 square feet and feature “80 acute mental illness beds; 60 long-term care beds; 44 long-term acute care beds; three intensive care beds; three medical- surgical beds; and 40 comprehensive physical rehabilitation beds for the total of 230 authorized beds.”

“Woodlake will treat all patients […] regardless of their ability to pay,” Jones said. “It will do so by accepting Medicaid and through its Charity Care program. Similar to the Charity Care program provided by Westlake, uninsured patients at Woodlake can apply for financial assistance with certain individuals being deemed presumptively eligible due to their financial status. We are committed to retaining these policies for at least two years after the hospital reopens.”

Glenn Kushner, the last president of Westlake who lives a block from the hospital, said he was impressed by the new hospital’s ownership.

“I can tell you after meeting with these people who own it, I was very impressed,” he said. “And this community sorely needs this type of facility once again. It is very sad to drive by and see an empty building like that. It’s terrible. And the nearest psychiatric facility really is Riveredge, and they’ve had to turn patients away because they don’t have enough staff there.”

Sanchez said he was born at Westlake, so the hospital carries added importance for him and his family.

“The void that this hospital created when it left [was] significant,” he said. “Now with Woodlake hopefully being allowed to operate, it would be such a tremendous help for multiple communities, not just Melrose Park.”

Jim Prister, the president and CEO of RML Specialty Hospitals, which has two locations in Hinsdale and Chicago, said while he supports the opening of Woodlake, he’s concerned about the institution adding more long-term, acute care (LTACH) beds.

Prister said there’s already a saturation of LTACH beds in the Chicago area and that Woodlake’s proposal for more “will only exacerbate an already over-bedded sector of health care in the Chicago area.”

Dr. Rupak Parikh, CEO of Advanced Rehabilitation Care, expressed support for Woodlake opening in Melrose Park, particularly as more and more people are affected by COVID-19 and the long-term health effects of the virus.

“COVID is here. We have a Delta variant,” Dr. Parikh said. “There are other variants that are to be expected. And there is something called long COVID in terms of the rehabilitation and medical needs that are going to be needed, not only in this community, but throughout.”