You only get one chance to make a first impression, or so the saying goes. Pipeline Health, the new owner of West Suburban Medical Center, and, for the moment, of Westlake Hospital, has officially squandered that first impression.

The mishandled announcement Friday that the L.A.-based Pipeline would seek permission from the state to shutter Westlake Hospital in nearby Melrose Park raises questions of both integrity and competence.

The health-care company, fronted locally by Dr. Eric Whitaker, friend of Obama, etc., seemingly spent months negotiating the purchase of these two local institutions along with Chicago-based Weiss Memorial from Tenet Healthcare. Where then was the due diligence? How, in a two-week period, can Pipeline go from closing the deal amid promises it would be investing in three hospitals to the bombshell that Westlake had be cut loose and fast?

Whitaker, in an interview with Crain’s, said closing Westlake was not part of the plan, but that “people who work in health care … have seen [Westlake] patients vote with their feet in terms of going to other facilities.

We’ve heard the same thing for several years under the past two ownerships of the West Sub/Westlake combine. West Sub is getting by modestly while Westlake is a money-losing machine. Why then didn’t Pipeline force Tenet to do the hard PR job of applying with the state to close Westlake? Why didn’t Pipeline refuse to purchase Westlake? Either would have been preferable to its excruciating announcement with its message of abandonment to Proviso Township and heartlessness to its 500 employees.

Tenet, based out of Dallas, will be remembered as a blip in local health-care history. But Pipeline made its case as a different sort of community-building, health-care company. Now it is making new promises that the closure of Westlake will strengthen West Sub as services are shifted to Oak Park and patients and docs theoretically follow.

We get the reality that health care is changing and needs to change more and faster. There are fewer inpatient beds needed, investment in technology and outpatient care is essential. Our hope has been that Pipeline would lead our community health care in that direction. Today it feels as if it is stumbling out of the box.

Inevitably those promises of greater investment in West Sub ring hollow. Suddenly Pipeline Health has a lot to prove.

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