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Hearing on Oak Forest Hospital

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Another hearing on Cook County’s proposal to close Oak Forest Hospital takes place Monday, and patients, staff and community residents are expected to testify against the plan.

A hearing of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board takes place Monday, April 18, 10 a.m. at Bremen Township Hall, 15350 Oak Park Avenue in Oak Forest.

“We’re very concerned that the county is rushing to close it down without a better plan for the transition,” said Carol O’Neill, a former Oak Forest staffer. “There are a lot of unanswered questions.”

“The issue is that there needs to be a safety net” to provide care for the uninsured and underinsured — “so folks aren’t dying in the streets,” said John Gaudette of Citizen Action Illinois.

Last month the health facilities board voted against the county plan after a report from the Illinois Department of Public Health said the proposed closing would worsen the shortage of intensive care and long term care beds in the area.

The board is expected to reconsider the matter in May. Several vacant seats on the board may be filled by then.

The Cook County Health and Hospital System has proposed eliminating emergency, surgical and inpatient services at Oak Forest and turning it into an outpatient acute care facility. The plan is projected to save $25 million a year. The emergency room would become an urgent care clinic, open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“We have clinics” in the south suburbs, said Lee Mayberry, a longtime patient at Oak Forest. “What we need is a hospital.”

O’Neil expressed concern over increased risks for long-term care patients who might be moved to nursing homes.

Mayberry said a number of long-term care patients died within months after being moved to nursing homes when the county tried to close the unit in 2007.

He had high praise for the staff of Oak Forest.

The facilities board also cited vagueness over the county’s timeline for opening the proposed outpatient facility.