County: Oak Forest Hospital conversion strengthens public health
BY CASEY TONER email@example.com August 22, 2012 12:16PM
A groundbreaking today celebrated Oak Forest Health Center's transition to a Regional Outpatient Clinic. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 24, 2012 7:44AM
The health center that is replacing Oak Forest Hospital will reduce countywide disparities in the quality of care available to the poor, a Cook County official said Wednesday.
But county Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) said the south suburbs still will be lacking, and she hopes future plans include returning inpatient care to the site, at 159th Street and Cicero Avenue.
County officials broke ground Wednesday on a $5 million renovation to the former hospital. Now called the Oak Forest Health Center, it will include a 24-hour outpatient clinic.
The renovation is part of the county’s $19 million, multiyear investment in the 1.2 million-square-foot property. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle called it the first step in ensuring that the community “has access to the health care they need.”
“We should be doing everything to strengthen public health in our communities, and that’s exactly what this project does,” Preckwinkle said.
Wold Architects and Engineers designed the renovation, and The Lombard Company is overseeing the construction on the facility’s 15,000-square-foot “E” building, which will house the center’s new entrance.
Additions to the building are to include two general X-ray rooms, a chest X-ray room, a heart study ultrasound room, an obstetrician/gynecologist ultrasound room, a mammography screening room, a fluoroscopy room, and a CT scan room.
Three blood-drawing stations and room for EKG and cardiology testing and screening also will be added.
The building will remain open during construction.
The ground floor will be renovated to include a financial services section, and the entranceway will be redesigned, according to Marisa Kollias, a Cook County Health and Hospitals System spokeswoman. She said signs will be installed to guide people to the entrance, since it’s located toward the back of the property.
Dr. Ram Raju, the head of the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, said the facility will help reduce the county’s health care disparities.
“Together, we will strive to create a healthier America,” Raju said.
Still, some officials were not convinced that the changes will enough.
The emergency room at Oak Forest Hospital was shut down and inpatient services were discontinued last year as part of a budget-cutting plan, and Murphy said she hopes the future savings the county realizes from the remodeled site will allow the return of inpatient services.
“If a person comes here and needs to stay somewhere, they have to go to a different hospital,” Murphy said. “Hopefully in the future, the beds will be here.”
Murphy also noted that the nearest trauma center — Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn — is too far away for many residents living on the southern end of the county.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board agreed in August 2011 to allow the renovation of the hospital, which county officials claimed was needed due to under use and cost overruns associated with the property. In 2010, the hospital saw 52,000 outpatients, a number county officials say will increase by 32,000 once the new center opens in January.
The county’s plan for the rest of the campus envisions a pedestrian and wildlife crossing over 159th Street, the conversion of an existing building into a visitors center/museum, interpretation of the historic poor farm and 17th century Native American dwellings, and preservation of the historic cemetery.
After the groundbreaking ceremony, Hazel Crest Mayor Robert Donaldson was hospitalized after suffering an apparent seizure. Shortly after asking for water, Donaldson began convulsing on the floor.
Donaldson was taken to South Suburban Hospital, according to officials, because the clinic is not set up to treat emergencies.
Hazel Crest village manager James Whigham said Donaldson was alert and communicating later in the day. He said he expected Donaldson to be released from the hospital later Wednesday and that he likely would resume his normal schedule within a few days.