Pipeline suspends services at Westlake Hospital

Lawmakers say company creating 'false narrative' to hasten closure

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Pipeline Health, the California-based company that recently purchased West Suburban Medical Center, Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago and Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park, announced on April 9 that it had temporarily suspended service at Westlake "due to concerns about its ability to continue maintaining a safe environment for patient care due primarily to declining staff rates."

The news comes two months after Pipeline filed an application to close Westlake with the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, the state agency responsible for approving change ownership applications and hospital closures.

The review board is scheduled to either grant, deny or defer Pipeline's request to close Westlake at a meeting on April 30.

Ari Scharg, the attorney representing the village of Melrose Park, filed an emergency motion on April 8 for a temporary restraining order to prevent Pipeline from closing Westlake on Tuesday, April 9. A court hearing on the injunction was scheduled to take place on Tuesday at 2 p.m., after Wednesday Journal's print deadline.

Pipeline has been under fire from local elected officials, residents and community leaders after announcing in February its intention to close Westlake just two weeks after finalizing the purchase of the three hospitals for $70 million from Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare.

Last month, Scharg filed a lawsuit on behalf of Melrose Park against Pipeline that claims the company committed fraud and conspiracy in order to hide their intention of closing Westlake from community members and the review board before the purchase was finalized.

Pipeline has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that they made no commitment to keep Westlake open "for any period of time" and that "Westlake's untenable financial condition was not fully evident at the time the application for change of ownership was prepared."

In March, state representatives Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-7th) and Kathleen Willis (D-77th) introduced a bill that would give the governor the authority to overturn the review board's decision if it chooses to grant Pipeline's request to close Westlake. That bill was approved in committee last month and is headed to the floor of the Illinois House.

In their April 9 statement, Pipeline officials said that they decided to "discontinue operations at Westlake" due to "declining inpatient stays and losses of nearly $2 million a month." They explained that Westlake "is only 30 [percent] full" and that inpatient visits were down from 4,800 in 2017 to 4,100 in 2018.

Pipeline officials said that "hospital staffing rates have continued to fall at a concerning rate, which has necessitated pulling staff from Pipeline-owned West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park and increased reliance on registry nurses affiliated with outside agencies to cover shifts at Westlake."

Scharg countered those claims in his emergency injunction. 

"Surprised by the community backlash, and no longer confident that the review board will grant its application, Pipeline has decided to shut down Westlake unilaterally and without Review Board approval," Scharg stated in the court document.

"To close Westlake now, Pipeline has put together a plan to make it seem to the Review Board and the community as though the hospital is short-staffed and cannot safely care for its patients," Scharg wrote. "That narrative is false -- the reality is that Pipeline has fired numerous staff members and refused to hire any new employees to replace them."

Pipeline officials said that "in anticipation of potential service discontinuation," they issued WARN Act notices to Westlake employees. The WARN Act requires companies with at least 100 employees to notify workers of an impending closure at least 60 days ahead time.

"The company's temporary service suspension is in anticipation of operations disruptions due to these notice issuances coupled with the recently declining staffing rates," according to Pipeline's statement.

Jim Edwards, Pipeline Health's CEO, said in the statement that "our utmost priority is safety and quality of patient care," adding that "with declining staffing rates and more attrition expected, a temporary suspension services is necessary to assure safe and sufficient operations. The action is being taken after considering all alternatives and with the best interest of our patients in mind."

In an email statement released Monday, Congressman Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, whose 4th District includes Westlake's service area, said that the hospital's closure "would harm people in my community who are currently being treated by doctors in that facility and who don't have other options for their health care."

During a town hall in Maywood on April 8, Welch said that Pipeline's "false narrative" that the hospital is in disarray was belied by the fact that "I know someone who was there last week who had a baby."

Welch added that Pipeline "is trying to close Westlake regardless of what the community and the state says. … This is going to mean life and death for a lot of people."

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

 

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Nancy Hill from OAK PARK  

Posted: April 9th, 2019 2:05 PM

this is the same company that bought West Suburban . . is that the next one to be closed? then what happens?

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