The prospective new owners of the West Suburban Medical Center, 3 Erie Court, met with community members during a town hall held April 7 at the Oak Park hospital, where they pledged to keep their ears open to staffers and area residents as they chart a new path for the medical institution. Eighty-percent of West Suburban’s patients live in Austin.
West Suburban’s current owners, Pipeline Health, announced on March 10 that they plan to sell West Suburban and Weiss Memorial Hospital in Uptown to new owners.
Ramco Healthcare Holdings, based in Princeton, New Jersey, has signed a letter of intent to purchase the hospitals for $92 million. Ramco plans to lease the hospitals to Resilience Healthcare. A company called Xpertease, which specializes in turning around struggling hospitals, will be responsible for operating the hospitals.
The sale is contingent on approval by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board. According to the board’s site, the hearings on the sale were held on April 8. The board is tentatively scheduled to review the change of ownership applications on June 7.
During the April 7 town hall, which was organized by West Suburban, residents got an opportunity to hear from Manoj Prasad, the owner of Xpertease, and Reddy Rathnaker Patlola, the owner of Ramco.
Prasad said he originally wanted to buy Melrose Park’s Westlake Hospital, which Pipeline acquired in 2018 along with West Suburban and Weiss, only to shut it down a year later. Prasad said that he was outbid, but that made him interested in Pipeline’s other properties.
He said he visited West Suburban in the guise of a consultant and was immediately impressed by how clean the hospital floor was, even though it was snowing outside.
“To me, that was the first sign that this is a hospital people take pride in,” Prasad said.
When he had a chance to talk to the hospital staff, Prasad said he was impressed by how many long-time employees West Suburban had.
“I was totally blown away by that loyalty,” Prasad said. “For 32 years, I’ve been fortunate and blessed to be called to hospitals that are struggling, but never have I seen such dedication in a group of individuals — not just people and the staff, but the community that is engaged.”
Patlola said that he had been thinking about expanding his holdings to hospitals when Prasad asked if he wanted to be involved in the purchase.
“I’m very interested in being [involved] in American hospitals, because I think healthcare is a human right,” he said. “I won’t say basic [right], but a human right.”
When asked about changes he wanted to make, Prasad said he wants to ensure that the hospital provides follow-up care for patients dealing with mental health issues, so that they won’t be trapped in the cycle of going in and out of hospitals. He also wants to invest in the treatment of diabetes.
“Diabetes is a pretty big problem with everybody, particularly with the African-American population,” Prasad dais. “It [hits them] harder than others.”
Prasad said his major priority would be to listen to the hospital community, adding that he invites staff to share ideas and complaints with him. He said their input would be confidential. He also said that he will make a point of walking around the hospital to talk to staff and that he plans to establish a community advisory council.
“I learn, I absorb and I share,” he said. “Anytime you don’t see me rushing somewhere you can stop me [and talk to me].”
When asked whether he understood the needs of majority-Black communities east of Austin Boulevard, he responded that he spent decades working in Detroit, so he’s already familiar with issues those communities face.
Liz Figueroa-Serrano, the community advocacy program supervisor for Sarah’s Inn, a Forest Park agency that supports victims of domestic violence, asked whether he would be willing to let more area community organizations use the hospital for meetings and programs.
“Absolutely, without question,” Prasad responded.
Several staff members told Prasad that the meeting left them more hopeful than any of the previous ownership changes. Ellen Walter, the social work manager at West Suburban, said that the town hall was a good sign.
“I think this is the first time someone came up and said ‘this is who we are,’ not ‘this is what you’re going to get,’” she said.
Patricia Jones-Andrews, who has been a nurse for 34 years, said she appreciated Prasad’s willingness to engage with employees.
“I was impressed with the opening comments,” she added. “I’ve been here for [several ownership changes], I wasn’t impressed with anyone before.”