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Preckwinkle, ministers discuss future of Oak Forest Hospital

May 27, 2011 3:53:20 AM PDT
Plans to turn Oak Forest Hospital into an outpatient care center received the backing of a ministers group Thursday.

The ministers met with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to discuss their concerns. Despite the ministers' support, plans to make the hospital into a regional outpatient clinic that offers preventative and urgent care medical services has been met with some opposition.

Oak Forest Hospital is still open, but longtime patient Cynthia Phillips says after 10 years there, she doesn't know where she'll go if it closes.

"I got to go find a nursing home for a little bit," Oak Forest patient Cynthia Phillips. "Then after that, where can we go?"

The 55-year-old is like others who depend on the hospital for their health care. Some say if the facility stops offering inpatient and rehab service, there will be even fewer medical options for the uninsured in the Southland area.

"Oak Forest Hospital is inconvenient for the administration but it's convenient for the patients, the sick and the suffering," said Rev. Greg Livingston with Citizen Action Illinois.

The hospital's shutdown would save the county $25 million to $40 million, and although a state panel rejected that plan, officials now say they'll spend millions in unbudgeted dollars to maintain the under-utilized facility where only 39 patients occupy the 213-bed hospital.

"The county's health system has been focused on inpatient care which is very expensive and not the best way to use the resources," said Dr. Terry Mason, the Cook County Health and Hospital System Interim CEO.

Preckwinkle says moving forward is important to the future of Oak Forest. She's still exploring all options for transition, including Illinois Senate Bill 40, which would allow the county to close any of its three hospitals without state approval.

"I have not talked to the governor. The calls I have made have been to state representatives," Preckwinkle said.

But Lee Mayberry, who is legally blind and being treated at Oak Forest Hospital for a brain tumor, says another clinic won't help him.

"I cannot afford to be sick anyplace else. That is the bottom line," Mayberry said.

County officials have set up an advisory board to aid in any transition. The county says long-term care patients will be transferred to alternate living facilities and that the system will pay for their care.

Officials say the regional outpatient center will dramatically increase the number of patients served. Critics still see the move as a dismantling of critical healthcare services.


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