Melrose Park Mayor: Westlake’s Owners Could Close Hospital Tomorrow

Monday, April 8, 2019 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 10:52 p.m.

Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico released a statement on Monday explaining that he suspects that the new owners of Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park could close the nearly century-old institution as early as Tuesday.

“I have strong reason to believe that Eric Whitaker and Pipeline Health plan to announce the immediate closure of Westlake Hospital tomorrow,” Serpico said. “Eric Whitaker and Pipeline are doubling down on the deceit that has plagued our community since they purchased Westlake Hospital in January. ”

Whitaker is a principal with California-based Pipeline Health, which announced in February — two weeks after purchasing Westlake and two other community hospitals — that they plan on closing the Melrose Park institution. At the time, Pipeline officials said that the closure, if approved by the state, could be finalized by the second quarter of this year.

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) and Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (4th) both said that they also suspect that Pipeline could close the hospital on April 9 — even before the state weighs in.

Attorney Ari Scharg, who is representing the village of Melrose Park in a lawsuit it filed against Pipeline last month, said that on Monday he filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order to prevent Pipeline from closing Westlake on Tuesday.

A court hearing to consider the motion is scheduled to take place Tuesday, 2 p.m., before Judge Eve Reilly in court room 2405 at the Daley Center in Chicago, Welch said.

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 Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board — the state agency responsible for approving change ownership applications and hospital closures.

News of Westlake’s impending closure sparked collective outrage in Proviso Township and beyond. State Reps. Welch and Kathleen Willis (77th) even 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 and is headed to the floor of the House.

The review board is scheduled to either grant, deny or defer Pipeline’s request to close Westlake at a meeting on April 30. Scharg, however, said that Pipeline is trying to effectively close the hospital even before that point and without state approval.

“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 explained in the emergency motion.

“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.”

Scharg added that Pipeline “is using its false narrative to cut medical services, close medical units, refuse new patients, and to close the hospital before the April 30 Review Board meeting. Pipeline’s premature closure of Westlake is illegal and must be stopped immediately.”

In an email statement released Monday, Congressman Garcia said that he was “very concerned about reports that Westlake Hospital may be closing as soon as tomorrow. 

“The closure of the hospital 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,” he said.

During a town hall in Maywood on Monday, 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.”

Pipeline officials could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday night. VFP

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