An unstable West Sub

Opinion: Editorials

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West Suburban Medical Center is an institution in Oak Park, in Austin, in River Forest. Founded on Austin Boulevard in 1912, West Sub was a vital player in each of these communities. It remained an independent community hospital with a strong and earned reputation for 82 years. 

But starting in the 1990s, pressures began to mount on standalone community hospitals and West Sub's independent board sold it off to Loyola Hospital. A culture clash, tied in real ways to Loyola's Catholic heritage, made this a bad match and, remarkably, a few years later West Sub regained its independent status.

That didn't last long. Over the past 20 years West Sub has cycled through four ownerships. Resurrection. Vanguard. Tenet. And now Pipeline. For profit. Nonprofit. Catholic. Sectarian. Leadership has come and gone. 

It was just two years ago that California-based Pipeline Health bought Tenet's lonely three hospital outpost in Chicago. It quickly reneged on its promise to maintain all three when it closed nearby Westlake Hospital. And in that process, Pipeline shed a good bit of whatever limited credibility it had.

Today we report that Pipeline has its hand out in Springfield looking for a special cash supplement which its vague public statement implies is vital to its future operations. This from a now two-hospital group which has already collected $44 million in special funding from state and federal government during this COVID-wracked year.

We hear conflicting messages over whether West Sub has a shot at additional state funding. Depending on who we are talking with, negotiations with Gov. J.B. Pritzker are ongoing or they are dashed. It should become clear in the weeks ahead. Is Pipeline playing chicken with the suggestion it might not survive? Too soon to tell.

What is clear is that West Sub is not in a stable position. Too many owners. Too much stress on health care. And roots which are withering in its home communities.

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