Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Ensconced in a small brown tent layered with a pile of blankets on property just across the street from Oak Forest Hospital, the pastor of a Robbins church on Tuesday began his protest against Cook County’s planned closure of the hospital.
The Rev. Anthony W. Williams, pastor of Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church, believes closing the hospital would be unconscionable, and he has vowed to fast until Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle acknowledges that keeping the hospital open is imperative.
Despite his spartan arrangements, Williams, who has fasted for as long as a week in the past, was girded for the long haul at his camp at a friary for Franciscan priests across busy 159th Street from the hospital.
“I’m willing to sit out here and fast for as long as it takes for President Preckwinkle and the board to recognize the need for the Oak Forest Hospital,” he said. “You cannot close a hospital that means so much to so many people.”
A small sign he had situated along the road prompted an occasional honk of support.
The county plans to convert the hospital, which serves uninsured and indigent patients, into an outpatient center, saying it can save $25 million and provide more patients a wider variety of services.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board is expected to decide Tuesday whether to approve the plan.
Although the board last month issued an “intent to deny” the county’s request, county officials are revising the request and are confident it will be approved.
They said their budget has no funds for alternative plans.
Williams’ conviction to the cause has been formed by the damage he believes a closure would bring to the indigent.
“President Preckwinkle is insensitive to the needs of the uninsured and the poor,” he said. “She’s hardened her heart to their concerns. The closure would absolutely devastate the Southland, especially the uninsured.”
When Williams set up his camp about noon, a group of supporters joined him for a prayer vigil.
Although Williams is confident his protest will make a difference, there are contingency plans.
A coalition of ministers from across the Southland has reached out in hopes of scheduling a meeting with Preckwinkle to air their concerns, he said.
Williams said a class-action lawsuit also is in the works, pending the state board’s decision on May 10.
“And if that doesn’t work, we’ll see her next election,” Williams said of Preckwinkle.
Officials at Oak Forest Hospital did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.