West Sub, neighbors discuss ER plans

Hospital says options are open, Humphrey site worries neighbors

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By TERRY DEAN

The site for West Suburban Medical Center's new emergency room appears to be headed toward the open space west of the hospital, primarily on historic and residential properties.

West Sub's CEO Jay Kruezer reiterated that the hospital does not have a primary site and that expansion plans would be discussed with a proposed Neighborhood Advisory Committee of residents, including those in Austin.

But several other options, including rebuilding in the existing ER or expanding east on Austin Boulevard, were unlikely, he said.

Moving the hospital's administration wing and expanding the ER in that location was also unlikely. West Sub has estimated that 35,000 square feet is needed for the new ER. Kruezer said he didn't have exact estimates of the existing ER, but that its current ER was far less than 35,000 square feet. The administration wing is around 2,000 square feet, he said.

That would seem to leave the open space west on Humphrey Avenue as the most viable option for expansion, but Kruezer said nothing has been finalized.

"We're open to any option that would address the needs of the ER," he said. "That's why we want to meet with the committee and discuss the various options."

West Sub announced the formation of the advisory committee two weeks ago at a meeting with residents. Some Oak Park residents are skeptical of the committee, seeing it as a diversion while actual expansion plans move forward without their input.

Residents like Jim Slama have long been opposed to building west on Humphrey. The hospital also owns a brownstone located west across from Humphrey. Kruezer said plans to tear down the building were previously discussed and is not a apart of the ER expansion. Residents, though, aren't buying it.

"When we hear 'demolition' and 'plans for expansion' in the same sentence, we can put two-and-two together and know that they're talking about Humphrey," said Slama. "The residents would be opposed to any such activity."

Residents also expressed concerns over increased noise, potentially hazardous waste and trash, and a reduction in property values as a result of the expansion. Slama added that properties west of Humphrey are zoned residential and recognized as historic locations. Kruezer said the hospital anticipated working with the Historic Preservation Commission on any plans.

Ninety-year-old West Suburban, located on 3 Erie Court, has been under fire from residents and community activists for the last year, following its acquisition by Resurrection Health Care. More than $3 million in hospital repairs have occurred in the last two years, Kruezer said.

The expansion plan calls for a new emergency room, increasing waiting room space and upgrading medical equipment. The Austin location has been ruled out because it's not big enough to accommodate a new ER, Kruezer said.

Kruezer pointed out that hospital emergency rooms are mandated to be at ground level and in close proximity to X-ray labs, operating rooms and intensive care units.

The hospital currently serves an average of 50,000 patients a year in a facility original built to serve 40,000. Since acquiring West Sub in March 2004, Resurrection has committed $72 million to improving the hospital, said Kruezer.

For more information about the Neighborhood Advisory Committee and upcoming meetings, call Molly Gaus, Marketing and Public Relations manager for West Suburban Hospital at 708/763-6096.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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