There are not many things we know for certain. But after 39 years of reporting on local hospitals trying to coexist with the residential neighbors that surround them in Oak Park, we know communication is vital.

It’s obvious, right?

Everyone in Oak Park is grateful and proud that we are home to two fine community hospitals with West Suburban and Rush Oak Park. First-rate health care. Job creators. Critical community partners. 

But inevitably, each hospital sits smack in the middle of a lovely neighborhood with residents who are inevitably protective of that neighborhood. As, happily, our hospitals have needed to grow over the decades, it has time and again created conflict. And the conflict has been exacerbated by secret plans unveiled only at the 11th hour, never an effort to directly communicate with neighbors and always resulting in a passionate fight.

Because our village government is always going to watch out for the interests of these large and critical institutions neither West Sub nor Rush have ever lost an ultimate battle to construct a parking garage, ER or physician’s office building. But along the way, organized neighbors have slowed down projects and won concessions on how buildings were positioned on a site, how hospital traffic was actively separated from the neighborhood, how much of a naturally landscaped buffer they could force the hospitals to concede or the village to demand.

Rush Oak Park ought to be basking in the deserved glory of just weeks ago opening its fantastic new ER. Instead it has already stepped in it with neighbors with its disingenuous application with the village to build a 700-car parking facility on land it owns but which abuts hardest with single-family homes. 

Last week, a skeptical Oak Park’s Plan Commission took up the proposal. First commissioners and then neighbors set the hospital to tap dancing quickly with questions about why this giant project was not coupled with the ER plan, why there isn’t a hospital master plan, and why hasn’t the hospital been actively talking to its neighbors.

Commissioners also asked why, if this is a serious proposal, didn’t the hospital bring an architect, a traffic engineer, a landscape architect to the presentation.

By the end of last week’s plan commission meeting, a chastised hospital was asking the commission to shelve its plan until February. We hope that, in the meantime, genuine conversations begin with already well-organized neighbors. The dialogue should have begun months ago.

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