After years of planning, debate and contention, West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park is nearly ready to open its new $24 million emergency room facility.

The hospital says the new ER, located at the intersection of Humphrey and Ontario, is three times the size of the hospital’s old emergency room.

“It’s a lot bigger, a lot more friendly,” said Patrick Herek, an emergency department attendant for West Sub, who gave Wednesday Journal a tour of the new ER last week. “The old place is familiar to us, but this will be a definite improvement.”

The ER won’t open for business until sometime in December. The hospital is shooting for Dec. 8, according to Herek, but that will depend on when West Sub gains an occupancy permit from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

In the meantime, construction is pretty much finished, with only a few crowning touches remaining, said West Sub spokeswoman Olga Solares. The hospital will host an open house tomorrow, Nov. 19, from 5 to 7 p.m. for community leaders, neighbors and politicians. They also plan to host an open house for the entire community on Saturday, Nov. 21, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Solares said construction costs for the new ER will be $24 million, and the project will finish on time and on budget. Construction of the 25,000-square-foot facility started in March 2008, after the hospital gained state approval in October 2007.

The new ER has 25 private rooms separated by walls, as opposed to the 21 smaller cubicles in the old ER, which were divided by curtains. Features include an enclosed port that holds four ambulances, a bigger waiting room and a CT scan machine dedicated just to the ER.

“You like to keep the patients as close to the department as possible and avoid field trips,” Herek said, speaking of the old ER that had to share its CT scanner with other departments.

Liz Maranto, medical director of ER services, says the department will have about 100 employees on staff, with 46 or 47 people working during peak hours. The hospital is estimating that the new ER will bring an increase of 3,000 to 5,000 patients per year.

After approval, Solares says West Sub will take about two hours to move everything from the old ER to the new ER – beds, equipment, patients, etc. The hospital doesn’t anticipate any interruption in service.

The hospital has yet to decide how it will use the space occupied by the old ER, Solares said.

That ER was built in 1913 and was last modernized in 1998. The hospital said in 2007 that it was over-occupied, with nearly 50,000 visits per year versus its 30,000 patient capacity. The new ER will have capacity for 50,000, Wednesday Journal reported in 2007.

The hospital gained village approval for the new ER in February 2007. That OK included the closing of Humphrey and rezoning of the property. The process leading up to the approval was contentious, with some neighbors fearing the new ER would have a detrimental effect on the neighborhood.

Jennifer Misiak, who lives on the 100 block of North Humphrey near the hospital, says neighborhood concerns remain to be addressed. A group of residents had requested that the area around the hospital be down-zoned, so West Sub can never build up to the currently allowed height of 125 feet.

Misiak also wants to see more trees added to help buffer the neighborhood from the hospital, among other things. “I think things could be done a little bit better, and I don’t think some of the things we’re asking are a lot,” she said.

Village President David Pope says the village will follow through to ensure that the hospital meets all commitments it made when gaining approval from the village.

“The village is committed to ensuring that all significant-sized institutions in our community do everything they can to operate in harmony with residents of the surrounding neighborhoods,” Pope said.

Herek believes there will be a transition period as West Sub gets used to its new space.

“Like any new place, it’ll take a little while to get the kinks out, but after a few weeks it’ll probably feel like home,” Herek said.


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