I like Rush Oak Park Hospital. I like that when I go to the ER, and the new one is lovely, the docs have a plan to make me feel better. Over the past couple of years, one visit led to a minor surgery, the other to physical therapy. In both cases I got better. 

We are fortunate to have this hospital in Oak Park. We are fortunate that 20 years ago Big Rush downtown chose to initially operate and later to purchase this hospital. 

The new emergency room was a long time coming. It replaced a fully obsolete and intensely overcrowded ER on the east side of the building. And it was built on a hospital-owned parcel that had long housed unused dorm facilities for nurses and a leaking swimming pool. Still took years to work its way to the top of the Big Rush master plan.

Which suggests there is a Big Rush and a Little Rush master plan. Of course there is a master plan. The question is, especially if you live in a house adjacent to Rush Oak Park Hospital, where is the plan? Why won’t you share it with your neighbors? Why does village government not demand you produce one before you ask for more zoning changes?

And more zoning changes is just what Rush Oak Park asked for and received last week from Oak Park’s Plan Commission. As the Journal has reported over time, Rush has been slowly acquiring residences on South Maple Avenue. Citing the ongoing cost of maintaining empty buildings and paying property taxes on the parcels ($60,000 to $80,000 annually), the hospital asked the commission to rezone the land for hospital use. 

The logical question: What’s the hospital use? 

Well, you see, because of the COVID-19 pandemic “Rush is in the process of coming up with a new strategic master plan for its hospital-owned properties. By receiving re-zoning approval now, we are looking to maximize our flexibility in the future,” said the statement released by the hospital PR staff in lieu of meeting the Journal’s request for an interview with the hospital’s longtime president, Bruce Elegant.

So what does this PR prose tell us? Well if there is “a new strategic master plan” a-coming, it would tell us there is an old strategic master plan back in the hospital’s vault. Maybe they could give a hint as to what the old plan looked like for Maple Avenue.

The press release also tells us that “plans have been put on hold as we battle the pandemic, we have also determined now is the time to begin precursory preparation for any potential projects that may arise in the future.”

“Precursory preparation,” you say. Going to need to put that phrase through our PR Translation Machine. Sounds like now that we have “maximized our flexibility” for the future and we’re hard at work on what we want to build, we’ve got the zoning in the bag. You’ll hear from us. Or as an irate neighbor put it in public comment last week, the stage is set for Rush to “drop something huge out of the sky on top of the neighborhood.” 

Well it has worked so far for Rush. Why change the plan?

Multiple plan commissioners acknowledged last week that changing zoning without knowing who wants to build what is sort of backward or suggested that it is past time for the hospital to unveil its master plan and acknowledged the hospital has earned its cynical reputation among neighbors.

Hospitals need to grow. Hospitals tucked in hard against residential neighbors have to be forced to be transparent about how their plans — and there are plans — impact the neighbors. 

And village governments need to represent the interests of the neighbors at least as much as the interests of the hospital.

Just fair.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...