The concern is quality of life, not race


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I am writing to clarify comments attributed to me concerning West Suburban Hospital's emergency room expansion. Dan Haley's column last week ("West Sub debate comes full circle") implying that I was a racist who wants to keep people from Chicago out of Oak Park for health care was so appalling and libelous that I feel compelled to respond.

In essence, Haley took quotes I made to another reporter out of context in order to advance his agenda to promote hospital expansion. An ethical journalist would have called me to confirm my comments and the scope of the entire discussion prior to publishing such an inflammatory column. I am shocked and disappointed by this lack of professionalism from the publisher and editor of a paper I have admired.

First of all, I firmly believe that everybody has the right to quality healthcare no matter where they live, and, as a hospital, West Suburban has a duty to provide that care. I conveyed this point to Wednesday Journal reporter Drew Carter during an interview when he was writing the article from which Haley drew my remarks. At that time I also applauded the fact that Resurrection Health Care has a budget to expand its capacity to provide badly needed emergency care for people in need.

To be clear, yes, I brought up the fact that many of the folks who use the West Suburban emergency room are from Chicago. However, I did so with the suggestion that Resurrection analyze the make-up of their emergency room clientele at West Suburban to determine whether the investment might be better made in a stand-alone emergency center on the West Side, where many of the patients live. A good example of how this can work is the recent development of the Austin Wellness Center. This partnership between Cook County and the Westside Health Authority now gives local residents access to quality wellness care while employing members of the local community. It's a win-win scenario that gives people access to the care they need close to home, not miles away in a suburb.

When I spoke to a friend who lives in West Garfield Park and is active in community and anti-racism issues, she flatly stated that if the hospital does not analyze the merits of building a stand-alone center close to its patients on the West Side, it would be a racist act. Essentially, Resurrection would continue to remove resources from the community without even examining how to keep some of the jobs and economic development in the Chicago neighborhoods that many of their patients call home. Activists from Austin make the same argument with supermarkets.

Located in a heavily residential area, West Suburban also has a duty to be a good neighbor. In recent years many who live near the hospital have not felt that they live up to this. For most of my 11 years in the neighborhood, they have charged parking fees to emergency room patients and their visitors, thus encouraging hospital visitors to park on the neighboring streets and compete with neighbors and guests for the few available parking spots. Hospital visitors already add to traffic congestion on local streets and litter in the neighborhood.

The one legacy of the last negotiation between neighbors and the hospital is a weed-filled barrier at the corner of Humphrey and Ontario. Years ago, Humphrey was turned into a one-way street due to heavy traffic from the hospital, and a flower garden was created at the end of the street near the hospital. Despite the fact that all the nearby West Suburban flower beds are extremely well maintained, this bed is an embarrassment. For some, it is symbolic of the hospital's relationship with local neighbors.

The thought of the hospital building on the west side of Humphrey is sad and frightening to many who live in East Central Oak Park. This area is a zoned residential neighborhood and a historic district. When West Suburban completed a huge expansion in the 1990s, neighbors thought we were finally done with the construction dust, noise, and expanding footprint. If the hospital expands across the street on Humphrey, it will butt up against homes that have been here for a hundred years and pollute the residential character of our neighborhood. It will reduce property values, increase traffic and congestion, and diminish quality of life for local residents. Are neighbors concerned about these factors? You better believe it.

My other suggestion to Drew Carter was that if it's not feasible to create a stand-alone center further east in the Austin community, West Suburban should consider expanding their emergency room on land owned by the hospital on the east side of Austin Boulevard. I made this recommendation based on concerns about maintaining the quality of life in East Central Oak Park?#34;not due to racism.

Austin Boulevard is a commercial street designed to accommodate large volumes of traffic. A new complex on the east side of Austin planned in conjunction with neighborhood groups in that community could fulfill the demand for additional emergency room services in an appropriate commercially-zoned location and provide some economic development in the Austin community. It could also provide dedicated parking to those using the emergency room and remove this burden from a residential neighborhood.

I look forward to working with neighborhood residents, West Suburban hospital, and the Village of Oak Park to develop a plan that works for all stakeholders.

And Dan Haley?#34;shame on you!

Jim Slama
Oak Park

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