During a hearing on Tuesday, a judge found Pipeline Health, the owner of Westlake Hospital and West Suburban Hospital, in contempt of court after they apparently violated a previous court order that prohibited them from closing the Melrose Park hospital.
Pipeline has until 9 a.m. Thursday to restore the hospital's services to the level they were at before April 9, when a judge ruled in favor of the village of Melrose Park's temporary restraining order against Pipeline. If Pipeline fails to restore those services, it can face a $200,000 a day fine.
Attorneys for the village of Melrose Park filed the temporary restraining order against the California-based company on April 8, after learning that it was planning to close the hospital much sooner than it had planned and before April 30, when the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board is scheduled to make a decision on Pipeline's application to close the hospital.
Pipeline officials issued a statement on April 9, the morning that a judge upheld the temporary restraining order, announcing that they planned to temporarily suspend services at Westlake "due to concerns about its ability to continue maintaining a safe environment for patient care due primarily to declining staff rates." Pipeline also issued 60-day notices to Westlake employees.
Attorneys for Pipeline argued in court on Tuesday that the temporary suspension of services took effect on the morning of April 9, hours before the court order went into effect at 4:30 p.m. The timing, the company's attorneys argued, means that Pipeline was still in compliance.
Ari Scharg, an attorney representing Melrose Park, said that the temporary restraining order had no specific start time on April 9 and that, besides, Pipeline was manufacturing a crisis atmosphere at the hospital, including terminating employees and refusing patients, in order to hasten the hospital's closure before the review board could make a decision.
Scharg argued on April 9 that Pipeline was devising a plan to make it seem to the review board and the community that "the hospital is short-staffed and cannot safely care for its patients."
That narrative, Scharg argued, "is false — the reality is that Pipeline has fired numerous staff members and refused to hire any new employees to replace them."
The restraining order is in effect until May 1. Another court hearing is scheduled for May 1 at 2 p.m.
The April 9 court decision continues a fight started by local lawmakers and community leaders against Pipeline ever since the company announced in February that it planned on closing Westlake due to serious financial challenges — two weeks after it purchased the hospital, along with two others in Oak Park and Chicago, from Tenet Healthcare for $70 million.
Last month, the village of Melrose Park filed a lawsuit against Pipeline arguing that the company committed fraud and conspiracy by hiding its real intentions for Westlake from the review board and the community during the purchasing process.
In addition, state Reps. Emanuel "Chris" Welch (7th) and Kathleen Willis (77th) have introduced legislation that would allow the governor to overturn the review board's decision if the board allows Pipeline to close Westlake. That legislation recently passed the full House.
Pipeline has argued in a motion to dismiss Melrose Park's lawsuit that they did not hide their intentions for Westlake during the purchasing process and did not know the full scope of Westlake's financial straits before finalizing the purchase.