By Dan Haley
With an $8 million investment in medical equipment since Rush University Medical Center took full ownership of Rush Oak Park Hospital last October, Bruce Elegant, CEO of the Oak Park hospital, said it is clear that Rush is "fully vested in Oak Park" and plans to fuel further growth through additional investment.
The hospital, 520 S. Maple Ave., just opened a $4 million suite offering state-of-the-art radiation therapy for cancer patients. Making the point multiple times during a Friday interview, Elegant said it is the combination of equipment and the presence of doctors from the main downtown Rush campus that distinguishes his hospital from other local facilities. "We can do things that the typical community hospital can't do," said Elegant.
"We are slowly but surely bringing new services from Rush to Oak Park."
Elegant said new investments are on the way, including a $1 million upgrade of breast-imaging equipment and a $1.1 million investment in the hospital's "Heart Station." Both programs will include staffing from Rush downtown.
"Now Rush is strategically saying we are doing new things at Rush Oak Park to further the overall mission of Rush," said Elegant.
Rush University Medical Center has operated Oak Park Hospital for some 15 years, but until October 2013 the hospital was primarily owned or sponsored by the Wheaton Franciscan religious order. After extended negotiations, Rush closed on its full acquisition of the hospital last fall. As part of that process, the hospital dropped its Catholic affiliation.
Elegant said the local hospital is just at the start of a "master facility plan" that will take 12-14 months to complete. While he is reluctant to assume the outcome of that plan, he does allow that the hospital has physical plant issues that need to be addressed.
The three he mentions are a shortage of parking as the hospital gets busier, the need to replace its growing but outdated emergency room and a "refreshing but not a rebuilding" of the main hospital structure, which was built in 1969.
Elegant said Rush Oak Park Hospital has begun "very preliminary" discussions with the village about expanding parking "on land we own." The emergency room currently sees 30,000 patients annually, three times the number as when Rush took over operations. "There is no question that we need a new ER facility," says Elegant. But he says he won't prejudge the scope of the facility that might eventually be built, owing to rapid changes in patient care, including, for example, patients being siphoned off by in-store clinics at Walgreens and CVS.
He noted a May 2013 report in Crain's that despite its cramped facilities, Rush Oak Park's ER had the shortest median wait time for treatment of any hospital in the Chicago area. He credits the hospital's creation of an expanding Fast Track option for the speed of the ER service. Fast Track diverts patients with less urgent needs into a separate stream for treatment by nurse-practitioners.
The eventual remaking of the main hospital building will most certainly lower the number of beds officially available for admissions, said Elegant, though effectively the hospital has already done that by "mothballing" a number of patient rooms that are not up-to-date.
While the hospital is currently licensed for 176 beds, Elegant said Rush Oak Park typically has 80 to 100 patients admitted, and the hospital is effectively at capacity when admissions reach 105. Elegant said the remaking will possibly eliminate all two-patient rooms.