First reported 6/7/2010 5:19 p.m.

On Tuesday the state of Illinois approved the sale of West Suburban Medical Center to Nashville-based Vanguard Health Systems. Click here to read more …

The state of Illinois was expected to decide Tuesday (after press time) whether one of Oak Park’s largest employers will change ownership. And on the eve of that decision, the company that plans to buy West Suburban Medical Center announced that it’s committing to keep the hospital open for at least three years, if the sale goes through.

Nashville-based Vanguard Health Systems told the state on Friday that it would keep struggling West Sub and Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park open for at least three years, upping its original guarantee of two years.

“Vanguard recognizes the important role that these hospitals play in the community, and they’re committed to keeping them open,” said David Goldenberg, a spokesman for the company. “They don’t buy hospitals to close them.”

Vanguard also says it plans to invest a minimum of $15 million in the two hospitals, which have lost $166 million over the past five years under their current owner, Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care.

Peg Strobel, a member of the Oak Park Coalition for Truth and Justice, said she was “disappointed” by Vanguard’s commitment to only keep the hospitals open for three years. Workers won’t provide the best care, she said, if they constantly have to worry about being laid off. However, the $15 million investment is a “good thing,” she said.

Vanguard – owner of 15 hospitals in four states, including MacNeal in Berwyn – is offering $41.5 million for the two health facilities. In order for the sale to close, the transaction first needs approval from the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board. The panel was scheduled to start deliberating in Springfield Tuesday morning, with a decision coming later in the day, after Wednesday Journal’s deadline.

Vanguard also says it will report the amount of charity care administered at the two hospitals for the first three years, even though it’s not required to do so as a for-profit corporation, Goldenberg said. They’ll also establish a panel of community leaders who will have “voice in guiding the hospitals.” The group would meet “at least annually,” according to a letter Vanguard sent to the state on June 3.

A labor union attempting to unionize employees at the two hospitals, along with various other community groups, have urged the state to require that Vanguard keep West Sub and Westlake open for at least 10 years, which Vanguard did when purchasing a group of hospitals in Detroit. But Greenberg said that transaction wasn’t comparable.

Strobel said she’s interested to see the reports that Vanguard has committed to provide on the levels of charity care it provides.

“It’s better than nothing, but these are critical institutions in our community, particularly when we’re going through the Great Recession,” Strobel said. “People need good hospitals to provide quality care.”

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