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County keeping Oak Forest Hospital open, with many changes

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Officials will begin the controversial task of ramping down operations at Oak Forest Hospital on Wednesday, the day it was scheduled to officially close as a costly in-patient facility to make way for a less expensive regional outpatient center.

“The emergency room is open, the hospital is serving existing patients but will not admit new patients,” county board President Toni Preckwinkle said Tuesday.

At last count, 20 patients were at the 213-bed hospital, with three in the intensive care unit, four in the long-term care unit and six on ventilators. Those 13 patients with long-term hospital needs are being sent to appropriate facilities, according to Preckwinkle’s office.

And with the retirement of the staff anesthesiologist last Friday, surgeries have been halted at the hospital, 159th Street and Cicero Avenue.

Preckwinkle said the so-called “Plan D” also calls for slimming down emergency room service while a primary care clinic operates next door.

Cook County health officials — with the support of Preckwinkle and a majority of county commissioners — planned to close Oak Forest Hospital and turn it into an outpatient center that would provide primary care and an urgent care clinic.

But a state regulatory board denied the county’s application to close Oak Forest, and a legislative effort to close the hospital died in recent days.

Preckwinkle said the planned closing met with opposition because the county health system — now run by an independent board — didn’t get the word out to the community about the planned transformation of the hospital into a regional clinic.

“The message got away from us,” she said.

But she’s working to form a community group that will take the temperature of the community about health care in the south suburbs. And then Preckwinkle and county health officials will return to the state board later this year and ask it to reconsider the county’s request to transform the hospital into the outpatient center.

Under a slightly modified plan, Preckwinkle will seek permission to operate the outpatient center round the clock — a concession by the county after community leaders balked at the proposed hours of
7 a.m. to 11 p.m. The primary care clinics would offer daytime hours, possibly 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Still, the stalled plan to close Oak Forest Hospital is a costly one. The county health system will have to spend more than $10 million during the next six months to keep staffing and other operational requirements in place as required by the state, according to county officials.

That could be a tough road to take when the health system is about
$40 million short of revenue projections about halfway through the fiscal year.



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