It is nearly impossible to overstate the low ebb Oak Park Hospital had reached in the late 1990s. Under the ownership of the Wheaton Franciscan religious order, the hospital stood alone at a time when alliances between hospitals were becoming common as a way to survive. Oak Park Hospital had a poor reputation for its medical care. Oak Park paramedics reportedly bypassed its emergency room. There had been no investment in the physical plant at Madison and Maple since the 1960s. There had been no money to spend on medical technology.
Then in 1997 Rush University Medical Center arrived, crafting a deal with the sisters that gave it full control of operations and finances at the hospital without the burden of owning it. It is also the year that Bruce Elegant arrived as the CEO of Rush’s experiment in satellite hospitals. (Rush took full ownership in 2013.)
Now it is 2021 and Elegant is about to retire after nearly a quarter-century at the steady helm of what was renamed Rush Oak Park Hospital.
Elegant, with carefully honed support from Big Rush just down the Ike, saved this community hospital. Not only saved but lofted it into a preeminent position among Oak Park-River Forest area hospitals and health providers. Starting in the shadow of a fairly dominant West Suburban Medical Center, Elegant, always competitive, set his sites on overtaking West Sub. He gets credit for pushing Oak Park Hospital ahead while West Sub gets credit for perpetual changes in ownership, leadership and becoming something of a basket case.
There’s a lot to be said for staying 24 years in one job, for having a plan and working that plan right up through the building of a state-of-the-art emergency room facility.
We have, in specific circumstances, been critical of Elegant and Rush Oak Park. Always it had to do with what we saw as tone-deaf relations with its residential neighborhoods. As Rush made its comeback, its physical growth was necessary and inevitable. That it would at virtually every turn have the implicit backing of Oak Park’s village government for that growth was not a surprise. Both Rush and the village should have done better in listening and communicating with residents.
That said, not many people put a decrepit but critical institution on their shoulders and carry it all the way back. Bruce Elegant did that. He deserves credit and thanks.
Rush Oak Park Hospital is now a model of how community-based health care thrives within a larger health-care system such as Big Rush. Bruce Elegant, who will continue to teach within the Rush medical management curriculum, was key in creating that model.
We wish him the best.