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How local community hospitals survive

August 13th, 2019 12:32 PM

Scott Levin

I have never written an opinion piece before, and certainly did not think this would be the topic for my first, but the politics and pain of what has been going on with Westlake Hospital is too much. Westlake Hospital is 1.5 miles from Gottlieb Memorial Hospital. It is 3.2 miles from Loyola University Medical Center. It is 3.4 miles from Rush Oak Park Hospital and 4 miles from West Suburban Medical Center. It has been losing money for years and years. 

The community of Melrose Park is hardly an island without health care. But where was the community of Melrose Park in supporting its community hospital when its members were ill? Did they use the hospital? They did not. The census of Westlake has been low for years, with occupancy rates averaging 30%. Patients, people, went elsewhere. 

Where was the mayor of Melrose Park during all these years of losing money? Did he stand up for the hospital before Pipeline announced it would close it? He did not, and there were certainly tangible, financially-supportive opportunities. 

The fact is the city of Chicago has too many hospitals. There are too many hospital beds. Care is shifting to the outpatient setting. Communities need to support their community hospitals if there is any hope for their survival. Melrose Park did not support their community hospital, nor did the mayor.

Pipeline bought three hospitals from Tenet Healthcare in an effort to improve the financial state of these hospitals, if able, and the health of their surrounding communities. They purposefully chose a local partner, a longstanding proponent of health-care delivery to underserved patient populations in various Chicago communities. 

Tenet Healthcare, the previous owner, knew for years that Westlake should be closed, yet dragged it along without any support. They may have been savvier as to the nature of Chicago politics. Pipeline quickly learned, and assessed, that Westlake Hospital was not viable. This is not new news. It is more than unfortunate that politics and press are now taking precedence over health care, not to mention rational thought. Pipeline is being distracted and its resources diverted into fighting a battle that should never have had to be fought. 

The two other hospitals, West Suburban Medical Center and Weiss Memorial Hospital are being distracted by their new owner's battle, and are being stalled in their true ability to move forward. It is time for the community of Melrose Park and its mayor to come to terms with the years of neglect perpetrated upon their community hospital. Its beds are no longer needed and the community already made that clear with their feet, over many years prior to this unfortunate incident.

If you want your community hospital to survive, use it. Too many community members seek out large academic hospital giants for common conditions. These resources are wonderful for rare conditions, but do not need to serve the most common illnesses and chronic diseases in a community. That would be the job of your community hospital.

Scott A. Levin, MD, is a board certified family physician and program director of the Family Medicine Residency Program at West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park and also serve as the Physician Advisor.