West Sub's new owner proposes Westlake closure

If state OKs Pipeline Health request, West Sub may absorb some in-patient services, employees


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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park has a significant role to play in the recent decision made by its new owner, Los Angeles-based Pipeline Health, to close Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park. 

Representatives with Pipeline Health LLC and TWG Partners — the two for-profit entities that purchased Westlake Hospital in January before announcing over the weekend plans to close the hospital — said in a statement released Feb. 16 that they plan to file an application next week with the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to close the 230-bed Melrose Park hospital. 

If the application is approved, the closure could be finalized by the second quarter of this year, officials said. Westlake employs around 670 people, 200 of them "on an as-needed basis," officials added.

Pipeline Health officials said that they'll invite qualified Westlake employees to apply for positions at West Suburban or Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and that a community shuttle between Melrose Park and West Suburban in Oak Park "is also in the works." 

They also said Westlake's in-patient services, including gynecology, intensive care and obstetrics, among others, will be consolidated with West Suburban. 

Pipeline Health and TWG Partners purchased Westlake, West Suburban and Weiss from Tenet Healthcare for $70 million in January. 

In a Feb. 17 Chicago Tribune article, Dr. Eric Whitaker, the founder of TWG Partners and vice president of Pipeline Health who is also a close friend of former president Barack Obama, told reporters that closing Westlake will allow West Suburban and Weiss to remain financially sustainable.

He added that Westlake lost $9 million in 2017 and was set to lose even more this year. Whitaker explained to Tribune reporters that he told local leaders that "all options were on the table," even though the new owners did not originally intend to close any of the three hospitals. 

"As we looked at the financials, the losses had accelerated tremendously and it was beyond what we had projected," Whitaker told the Tribune. "To the extent that we would have to pour a lot of capital into Westlake, it really would have endangered the other two hospitals we had as part of the purchase."

The announcement still incensed local lawmakers, such as state Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-7th), who represents constituents in Westlake's and West Suburban's service areas. 

During a press conference outside of Westlake on Feb. 18, Welch, who is also a Westlake Hospital trustee, said that he was informed of Westlake's closing on Friday from a voicemail message left by Whitaker.

"Just like I told Eric Whitaker on Friday — we are not going to let them close these doors," Welch said.

Welch recalled that "every single time" Pipeline Health officials spoke with hospital trustees during the purchase process, "they told us they wanted this hospital to invest in it, not close it. They said they believed in community, that they believe in the commission of community hospitals like Westlake."

Welch added that he contacted the Attorney General's office on Friday "and asked them to investigate whether [Pipeline] intentionally misrepresented and committed fraud" during the process of purchasing the three hospitals. He said that he's already fielded inquiries from other investors looking into the possibility of purchasing Westlake from Pipeline Health.

Before acquiring the hospitals, Pipeline Health had to file papers with the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, which "approves or disapproves applications for construction or expansion of health care facilities to avoid unnecessary duplication of such facilities and promotes development of facilities in areas where needed," according to its website.

Pipeline Health officials said that they plan to file an application next week with the Review Board to close Westlake. If the application is approved, the closure could be finalized by the second quarter of this year.

Earlier this month, when he was asked what attracted him to Pipeline, Whitaker told Crain's that Westlake "really believed in putting community first."

Whitaker added that the hospital believes "in quality care. They believe in being the lowest cost provider. And so all of these things I think are important in hospitals because I think there are one-off community hospitals in danger all over this country."

And in January, Jim Edwards, the CEO of Pipeline and a partial owner of the company, told the Chicago Tribune that he wasn't "put out by the fact that these hospitals have some issues and problems from a financial perspective. We feel strongly with our resources, our finances, our experience we can come in and make a difference, and, for lack of a better way to put it, save these hospitals."

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

Reader Comments

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Carol M. Blalock  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 12:13 PM

The fact that the Pipeline web site refers to their assets as "properties" rather than hospitals IMO, is a big indicator that perhaps these hospitals were purchased for their land/locations rather than to keep serving their communities as local hospitals. My guess is that they're happy to close Westlake and then sell the land to finance their other "property" projects.

Heather Armstrong from Des Plaines   

Posted: February 22nd, 2019 6:08 PM

Sometimes you have to close the bad hospitals because I know a few of them around like the one in Austin Saint Anthony's in Lawndale Jackson Park Inglewood we need to close all these really bad hospitals because They have Obsolete technology Bad doctors bed nurses old buildings Bad staff

Mena Boulanger from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2019 9:08 PM

... Adding to my earlier comment: we had three excellent experiences in the past five years in the West Sub emergency room. Two for serious cuts and abrasions?" a buzz saw to a finger and a bloody fall requiring multiple stitches and one for cracked ribs and heart irregularity due to a bike accident.

Mena Boulanger from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2019 2:06 PM

My husband David and I have had many, many experiences with services at West Suburban Hospital over our 40 years living in Oak Park, many since the hospital became for-profit. They have included the radiology lab's nuclear medicine,, cat-scans and x-rays; infectious disease diagnoses and treatment; several surgeries including breast, hernia, and cardiac angioplasty; and currently using the cardiac rehab facility weekly. We cannot recall a bad experience either via personal treatment or procedure outcome. So, we find some of the early comments appear to be overstatements that are unfair to the many dedicated doctors and staff in a facility that serves well a diverse clientele with many medical needs.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: February 21st, 2019 12:32 PM

Brian: I agree with Ramona, well said. But one thing you bring up with your analogy to buying a car that does not apply to health care: you know the price of the car, it's not a secret. When you agree to the price of the car, you pays your monies and drive off. Not so in health care where prices (and costs) are quite literally secrets. For elective stuff it really is very difficult to "comparison shop" even if you wanted to.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: February 21st, 2019 10:16 AM

Well said Brian!!!!!!

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 21st, 2019 8:35 AM

So it is a profit question. Anybody settle on a price for a car, then pay an extra five thousand dollars more to improve the quality of life for the car salesman? The North Avenue food store is closing because many of us are shopping at Costco to save a few dollars. Everybody wants health insurance, no one wants health insurance premiums.Someone has to spend money to benefit me, but my money is still my money. No one in Oak Park wanted to invest in Westlake Hospital, spend money at the North Avenue food store, or even buy income property in Austin. I want someone else to do that for me. I know how and where you should spend your money.

Janet Haisman from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2019 8:05 AM

I have never been to the hospital described by Ms. Gabor. I am wondering if she, herself, had all of these terrible experiences, or if she is reporting things she has heard from others. We will continue to support West Suburban Hospital, because we have had great service from fine physicians - AND because community hospitals need people like us - those who have good insurance and can afford to pay. I have also been treated at Elmhurst, and it is a gorgeous, state-of-the art hospital. But it is not in my community. I so value what West Sub does for the poor - and I consider the west side of Chicago to be a part of my community. The problem is anything that is for-profit, and if West Sub goes down, that will be the reason. Apparently there is no one out there who values a community "owning" its own hospital any more. Whoever allowed for-profit hospitals must be of the class who can afford - and do - use concierge hospitals. I am crossing my fingers as I continue to support West Sub. Please do not disparage the good work they do unless you, personally, have had that experience. That is tantamount to a 5 - letter word that starts with "l" and helps no one.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: February 20th, 2019 4:43 PM

I wonder how the hospital going it alone in Austin on Central - Loretto Hospital on Central - has survived and stayed alive. I would love to know the story. We might all learn something. And they get pretty good online reviews, as much stock as a person can put in online reviews. I knew about Trinity Health care buying up NacNeal and Gottlieb. Funny thing, seeing Elmhurst Hospital come into Oak Park and hearing good reviews from people who have used their services, the medical services at other local hospitals are going to have to step up their game with the new competition. I don't know how it could or will happen but there really needs to be more stability to the whole world of consumer medicine...the constant changes are absolutely dizzying!

Bruce Kline  

Posted: February 20th, 2019 4:18 PM

Chris: if you look at the community hospitals that you mention all - save one - are under the larger "protective" umbrella of a hospital network. MacNeil and Gottlieb now part of Trinity (Loyola), Oak Park, part of Rush. The one truly "independent" community hospital - Melrose Park - is closing. There is no doubt that these are tough time for hospitals, particularly so for the free standing, independent community hospital to which you refer.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: February 20th, 2019 3:42 PM

You look at all of the small community hospitals that have existed in close proximity to Oak Park over the years, MacNeal, in Berwyn; Westlake in Melrose Park; Gottlieb in Melrose Park; Oak Park Hospital (now Rush); and West Suburban Hospital. What communities have that kind of benefit besides us. Every kind of specialty you might need, until you might have to branch out to the bit teaching hospitals, downtown, south and north. But look at the westside of Chicago from Austin to Downtown and south of the expressway to North Avenue - so underserved, except for Loretto Hospital at in Austin at 645 Central, and Norwegian Hospital at 1044 North Francisco Avenue (between Division and Augusta, west of Sacramento. West Suburban was bound to be closed...how could it possibly fill the need for Health care alone with those two other institutions and many with uninsured clients. This is wrong to close hospitals like this and leave patients without recourse to needed care. The whole profitable medical industry should take require that some of those profits be assigned maintaining some of these 'at risk' hospitals operating. If they aren't being run properly than see to it that changes to have them run responsibly. But expecting one or two hospitals to take on this responsibility of service to a population in need is wrong. Just as closing the hospital is wrong, morally wrong of the medical industrial complex and wrong for citizens to stand by and watch it happen. What a disgrace that we are not addressing this as a city and a country.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: February 19th, 2019 10:22 PM

LA based Pipeline is obviously clueless. And Ms. Gabor, basically explains why. West Sub will also be closed in the near future unless there is a total institutional cultural makeover - unlikely IMO. If you want to know physically what a community hospital looks like in the 21st century take a gander at Elmhurst hospital. West Sub is the exact opposite. Ms. Gabor is 100% correct: West Sub is not a community hospital; it is a hospital of last resort .. sad, but true.

Klara Gabor  

Posted: February 19th, 2019 4:11 PM

The new owners need to make changes starting at the top. You cannot have the same people making poor decisions and expect different results. Much of the problem in the lack of "paying" patients is residents not wanting to use West Suburban sue to lack of quality care. The emergency room is a disgrace, been there and never want to go back. Clinics run by West Suburban, various departments such as out patient lab, x-ray etc. poorly run as employees can be surly, no consideration shown to patients such as bouncing patients around with fractures being needlessly rough and caring less, shouting personal information about patients across the room for all to hear, basically little respect for patients with no consequences. You can complain and still nothing is done. Who wants to use a hospital who treats patients in the manner they do when you can go elsewhere? They have some fine doctors at West Suburban and it's a shame you don't want to use the hospital. To me West Suburban is not a community hospital but, a hospital of last resort.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: February 19th, 2019 3:48 PM

Medical breakthroughs and technology have advanced and make miracles happen in healthcare these days. Things we never imagined possible. But how are doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals, supposed to thrive under the unstable 'musical hospitals' (like the game 'musical chairs' we played as kids). It's too much to ask. We have been so incredibly blessed around here with all the options for wonderful medical care. It looks like wonderful care which was so abundant and accessible is about to come to a crashing end with the arrival of soulless corporations, corporate raiders. How can we expect our good local health care accessibility to remain available. And this situation, from what I am reading, wasn't even a 'hostile takeover'.The Pipeline rep was sweet and seductive, smiling and saying words people wanted to hear...then lied and duped everyone. That is a particular kind of lying, called "duping delight"! There has to be a way to stop businesses from interfering with hospitals that are delivering healthcare responsibly.

Linda Fairbanks from Forest Park  

Posted: February 19th, 2019 3:26 PM

This is what happens in a country that allows for-profit medicine. The dollars that should go for patient care, staffing, and research get siphoned off for investor profits. Wake up, America. Unrestrained capitalism will literally be the death of us all.

Les Golden  

Posted: February 18th, 2019 5:46 PM

I agree with River Forest Trustee Gregg Kuenster. West Sub's problem has for decades been the lack of paying patients. They run up unneeded tests to generate revenue from paying patients but the paying patients get wise and go elsewhere. It's a shame.

Gregg Kuenster from River Forest Trustee Candidate  

Posted: February 17th, 2019 11:14 PM

West Sub Hospital will be closed next. This the same playbook Gov Rauner used to make his fortune. 1 .. Suck out the disposable assets, pensions and receivable. 2 .. Run up the liabilities 3 .. set up Golden Parachutes for the investors and exit lawyers. Big Empty Hospital sold to Ventilator operation or welfare Senior/Disabled facility. Bruce You Are Correct!

Bruce Kline  

Posted: February 17th, 2019 10:37 PM

Typical CEO double talk from Jim Edwards. Westlake "really believed in putting community first" and "quality care". Supposedly this aligned with Pipeline's core mission. Really? Let's cut to the chase. Pipeline is a "for profit" business. Nothing wrong with that. But don't confuse missions. Community first? No. Profit first. And Westlake was unprofitable. Look, anyone in health care in this area knew Westlake (and West Sub and probably Weiss) were in deep doo doo. But Mr. Edwards gives us this double talk BS about how he and Pipeline are coming in to "save these hospitals." Yeah right. So it comes to this: In order to save Westlake they have to close Westlake. It's gonna take more than being connected to Mr. Obama to save these hospitals. And it's going to take more than feel good gobbledegook talk to make anyone a believer in Pipeline's ability to save these hospitals in the first place.

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