Despite the statement by West Suburban Hospital CEO Jay Kreuzer in last Wednesday's Journal concerning hospital expansion that the hospital "does not have a primary site," is "open to any option," and "no designs have yet been made," it is quite clear that the only plan is to build a new building on the current green space at the corner of Humphrey and Ontario after demolishing the existing vacant two-flat in that space.
A simple walk around the block would make it evident that this is the only available space unless Kreuzer plans to convince the village to use its power of eminent domain to evict homeowners and seize some other property.
To hold a special neighborhood meeting and insist that no plans have been made yet and there are no designs on the table is disingenuous at best if not a blatant deceit. The hospital's employment of the Haymarket Group under the guise of a "dialogue facilitator" to distract and divide any organized neighborhood opposition is doubly insulting because they are the same group which so successfully splintered opposition during the last West Suburban expansion and are reviled by the local residents. And because apparently Kreuzer didn't do enough homework to understand what a strategic mistake this is. This implies either he doesn't really respect the local neighborhood, doesn't feel there will be any effective opposition to his plans, or hasn't taken the possibility of local opposition seriously enough to devise an effective counter plan. Of course, since he also doesn't have "any plans" yet of where or how they are going to expand with the $72 million they have been given by Resurrection, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised.
The real question for the village and the hospital is what value this expansion brings to either entity. We hear a lot about "Oak Park's biggest employer," but how many of those employees are Oak Parkers? Does a not-for-profit contribute in any way to the tax base for the village? Who does West Suburban really serve? Is it the hospital of choice for the Oak Park community? How will the expansion of an emergency room help hospital revenues since so many of the emergency patients are non-critical, non-paying walk-ins for primary care? What affect will the expansion have on the already tenuous east village in terms of property values, increased crime, and traffic and parking problems? What happens if the expanded emergency room puts the hospital in worse financial shape and it eventually becomes an abandoned hulk in a once beautiful historic district?
It is my hope that the current village board thinks seriously about these issues before granting zoning variances for West Suburban to expand westward, and that real dialogue occurs between West Suburban, the village board and the local community.