Pipeline Health buys West Suburban Medical Center

Obama friend, Dr. Eric Whitaker, joins leadership at Pipeline

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The deal announced in July 2018 by Los Angeles-based Pipeline Health to purchase West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park has gone through, according to a Tuesday announcement from Pipeline.

The national hospital operator said in the press release that the purchase from Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare also includes Louis A. Weiss Memorial Hospital, a 236-bed hospital on Chicago's North Side, and Westlake Hospital, a 230-bed facility in Melrose Park.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Pipeline CEO Jim Edwards said in a telephone interview that the transaction also includes 22 emergency rooms in the Dallas area and four hospitals in Los Angeles that are now wholly owned by Pipeline. While part of the transaction, the purchase of the facilities outside of the Chicago area did not involve Tenet.

The purchase is Pipeline's first in the Chicago area. It is partnering with Chicagoan Dr. Eric Whitaker, a close friend of Barack Obama, to manage the Chicago-area hospitals.

An email from Pipeline identified Whitaker as "a public healthcare advocate and long-time Chicago resident who worked with Michelle Obama at the University of Chicago on the Urban Health Initiative."

It also stated that Whitaker "has joined the Pipeline Health team as vice chair and principal to help improve quality, community-based care in Chicago."

Whitaker could not immediately be reached by press time.

"The rapidly changing healthcare environment has left many community hospitals struggling financially," Whitaker said in a Pipeline press release. "Pipeline Health has a track record of success by rethinking how healthcare is delivered at the right time, in the right place, for the right cost. This allows communities to maintain high quality care close to home."

In July, Tenet Healthcare noted in a press release that it was selling West Suburban and the other hospitals to a company jointly owned by Pipeline and TWG Partners, a company founded and run by Whitaker.

Edwards confirmed that the transaction did not include TWG Partners and deferred to Whitaker on the change. Edwards noted that Whitaker is a principal and owner in the transaction.

He said Pipeline will spend the next 60 to 90 days working to get to know the communities the hospitals serve and getting input from the hospitals and local leaders.

"For us, I think our approach is to invest in these facilities and equipment and programs and people," he said. "We're really looking to invest and to be in this community for a long time."

He added that Pipeline aims to "be more nimble" with the hospitals and get them "back on their feet from a financial perspective."

West Suburban has changed ownership five times since 1996. The hospital was sold to Loyola University Medical Center that year and then returned to independent ownership three years later before it was sold to Resurrection Health Care.

It was purchased again in 2010 by Vanguard and then again by Tenet three years later.

Edwards described Pipeline's approach as physician-centric and will work with managers, supervisors and frontline staff to improve the hospitals.

Dr. Mark Bell, president, Pipeline Health, echoed that sentiment in the press release, stating: "We view physicians as partners and hope to retain and attract those looking to care for patients in a high quality yet very efficient, personal and friendly setting. We feel our personalized approach will appeal to many physicians practicing in the Chicago area."

tim@oakpark.com

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